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California wine country wildfire forces evacuation of hospital, hundreds of homes

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California wine country wildfire forces evacuation of hospital, hundreds of homes

By Stephen Lam



A home decoration damaged by the Glass Fire is seen in Calistoga, California, U.S. September 27, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


ST. HELENA, Calif. (Reuters) - A wind-driven wildfire erupted on Sunday in the heart of northern California's Napa Valley wine country and spread across more than 1,000 acres (404 hectares), forcing the evacuation of several hundreds homes and a hospital, authorities said.


The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out before dawn near Calistoga, about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco, and raced toward the adjacent towns of Deer Park and St. Helena, with flames advancing to within a mile of the Adventist Health St. Helena hospital.


The fire's cause was under investigation.


All 55 patients who were at the hospital at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours, beginning around 7 a.m. in the morning, hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams told Reuters.


"We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area," she said, adding that while the facility was surrounded by smoke, the skies over the hospital itself remained clear enough for helicopters to land and take off with patients who needed to be evacuated by air.


She said it was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in about a month, coming on the heels of a massive cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay region.


Evacuation orders also were posted on Sunday for Deer Park and several other Napa County communities, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) spokesman Tyree Zander.


Some 600 homes were under evacuation orders, with residents of roughly another 1,400 dwellings warned to be ready to flee at a moment's notice. About 5,000 people in all were affected by evacuation notices, he said.


By 1:30 p.m., flames stoked by winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph) had scorched some 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with zero percent containment, Zander said.


There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a Reuters photographer in St. Helena saw a number of structures that had been burned.


The Napa Valley, world renowned as one of California's premiere wine-producing regions, has been plagued by a series of wildfire outbreaks in and around the Bay area over the past several years.


The latest came as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced it was temporarily shutting off power to transmission lines in portions of 16 counties across northern and central California as a precaution against heightened wildfire risks posed by hot, windy, dry conditions.


The public safety power shutoffs were expected to affect some 65,000 homes and businesses in the region, said PG&E, the state's largest electric utility.

A red flag warning for extreme wildfire risks was to remain posted for Napa Valley through Monday morning, Zander said.


CalFire said a fire weather watch was due to go into effect on Monday across much of Southern California due to a forecast return of hot, gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity from San Diego to Los Angeles and Ventura counties.


(Reporting by Stephen Lam in St. Helena; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis)



-- © Copyright Reuters 2020-09-28
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