This post was updated at 10:30 am EST, Friday, October 13, 2017.
The death toll climbed to 31 Thursday night as wildfires continued to rage largely out of control, ravaging about 190,000 acres and destroying or damaging some 3,500 structures including at least 16 wineries. (See list at bottom.)
“At my home in the town of Napa, you can see smoke from my house, and if you walk outside it’s the kind of smoke that tears your eyes and burns your throat,” said Catherine Bugué, Director of Education at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. “We’ve got an advisory, it’s not a mandatory evacuation order. It’s just ‘Hey people, pack up, get your gear ready.’”
Bugué considered herself lucky “because everyone I know is accounted for, but I do know some people who do know someone who is missing.”
Of the 31 people killed in wine country wildfires, 17 were found in Sonoma, eight in Mendocino, four were in Yuba and two in Napa, according to CAL FIRE, Yuba and Sonoma County.
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters last night, “We are now at 1,100 reports [of people who are missing.] 745 are located safe and around 400 still outstanding.”
Giordano said his department had been able to identify 10 of the 17 dead, most of whom were in their 70s and 80s.
Giordano has assigned a team of 30 detectives to the Missing Persons Squad who are continually working to “bring that number down.” He adds, “We’re also getting those cases that we’ve worked to the end and now it’s time to go searching for people in burn zones where it is safe and where we can.” There are about 20 search-and-rescue teams, half of whom are from other counties.
“We’ve found bodies that were almost completely intact; we’ve found bodies that are nothing more than ashes and bones,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said at a news conference. “Identification is going to be hard,” he added, saying in some cases bodies were identified only through medical IDs.
“Compassion for the families is what matters,” he added. Asked earlier in the day if he expected the death toll to rise, Giordano said, “I would be foolish to think otherwise.”
Some 8,000 firefighters statewide are working to contain the inferno, according to CAL FIRE. The Tubb Fire, the largest of the 21 wildfires, had expanded to 34,270 acres, with just 10 percent contained, a CAL FIRE spokesman said.
The mayor of Santa Rosa, Sonoma’s county seat, told the press that fires had levelled more than 2,800 homes, over 400,000 sq feet of commercial space and even destroyed the city’s newest firehouse.
“We know people are anxious to get back into their neighborhoods to find out how their homes are…It’s going to take some time,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said.
The local utility, PG&E, has 800 people working to restore power lines and repair gas mains in the city.
Each elected official—from Coursey to the head of the county’s board of supervisors and two local congressmen—expressed gratitude to the first responders, who had come from as far south as Los Angeles and areas the bordering states of Utah and Oregon. Relief personnel even came from locations as distant as Canada and Australia.
Though some wineries are continuing to pick, many are closed and their owners can’t reach them because they are in mandatory evacuation areas.
Treasury Wine Estates was able to report some good news. “The Stags’ Leap Winery and cellar door, including the Manor House, were not damaged by the fire and the infrastructure remains intact. Additionally, we are able to share that Chateau St. Jean sustained only minor damage to an out-building, with cosmetic and landscaping damage.”
Additional reporting by Tina Caputo and Angela Kahn
The following wineries have been reported destroyed:
Frey Vineyards Winery
Oster Wine Cellars
White Rock Vineyards
Meanwhile, the following all report damage:
Glen Ellen Winery
La Rochelle Winery
Nicholson Ranch Winery
AYA Sonoma County Cannabis Company