This article was published on Friday, October 13, 2017.
U.S. immigration officials suspended operations in the Northern California fire areas, authorities said Friday.
“The only time we’re going to pick someone up is in the event of a serious criminal presenting a current public safety threat,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman James Schwab said Friday. ICE agents would not detain anyone from evacuation sites, shelters or food banks, he added, though he did not say when the suspension would end.
This statement came after reports that immigrants were becoming too frightened to evacuate to safe areas, believing that they would be immediately seized and deported.
There was scattered good news today as calmer winds helped contain more of the wildfires. Reinforcement personnel to battle the blazes continued to arrive from neighboring counties, states and even as far away as Canada and Australia, bringing the total number of firefighters to around 9,000.
The deadly Tubbs Fire that burned down at least 2,834 homes, over 400,000 sq feet of commercial space and killed at least 18 people in Sonoma, was put at 25 percent contained by CAL FIRE officials. But other blazes remained largely uncontained.
While the total death toll remained at 32, CAL FIRE said wildfires had, after six days of burning, destroyed more than 220,000 acres, or an area about the size of New York City. Some of the fires—especially the ones threatening the cities of Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont—merged overnight.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the governor’s office of emergency services in California, vowed to the thousands of people affected by the fires, which have been burning for six days, “Our hearts going out to you, those affected by the fires. And we realize that lives have been changed forever by these events…But we will get through this.”
“We had the right conditions for weather,” said Richard Cordova, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “But we’re really concerned about the winds that are going to come up this evening and overnight.”
Officials said roughly 400 people remain missing.
Meanwhile, while neighbors have been volunteering to help, shelter and feed the more than 20,000 who were forced to flee their homes, vintners in wine country have also stepped up with offers of cash donations.
Joseph E. Gallo, chief executive officer of the E. & J. Gallo Winery, said the family-owned company is donating $1 million to aid the fire recovery efforts. The money will be divided among the American Red Cross California Wildfires Relief Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. In addition, Gallo will match employee donations two-for-one.
“It is devastating to learn that our colleagues, friends, growers and neighbors have suffered such great losses. We hope they are given the strength, fortitude, and endurance to deal with these adversities,” Gallo said in a press release.
Treasury Wine Estates, in a statement, said “We are grieving for those who have lost or have damage to their homes and we are grateful none of our TWE Family suffered personal injury or loss of life…Joining hands with our employees and the community, Treasury Wine Estates is making a contribution of $100,000 to support those affected by wildfires in the Napa and Sonoma Regions by donating $50,000 each to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund.”
Though some wineries are continuing to harvest, many remain inaccessible as they are still in mandatory evacuation areas.
Additional reporting by Tina Caputo and Angela Kahn.