After nearly four days of battling 22 wildfires raging across California, a Cal Fire deputy chief gave the first glimmer of positive news to those living in wine country on Thursday morning, and another official ruled out at least one cause of what ignited the flames.
“The fires grew a little last night, but nothing as dramatic as the last couple days,” Deputy Chief Scott McLean told KTVU.
Still, there was sobering news. The death toll climbed to 27 by Thursday and the total land charred by the fires totaled more than 191,000 acres.
Although the fires did not grow as much as expected overnight, mandatory evacuations were expanded in the area of Eastern Sonoma Valley. Shortly after noon a mandatory evacuation order had been issued for the area of East of 4th Street East, between Brazil and E. Napa Street and North of E. Napa Street, Between 4th Street East and Old Winery Road.
Meanwhile, one of the largest fires, the Tubbs Fire, which one one of the fires that did grow a bit in acreage, was 10 percent contained. By Thursday morning, it had burned nearly 28,000 acres. It started in Napa County near Calistoga, but is the fire that is responsible for ravaging the city of Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma County.
The other big fire, the Atlas Fire centered in Napa and Solano counties, did not grow much, according to Cal Fire; it remained at nearly 43,000 acres and was 3 percent contained, up from zero the day before.
That said, McLean added that the wildfires were still "volatile" on Thursday morning and no one should be "complacent." Sonoma County had the most number of confirmed deaths - 15 - as of Wednesday, Sheriff Robert Giordano said. He added that there were still 436 missing from his county alone.
Still, thousands of residents are not allowed to return home because of the evacuation orders in many parts of the North Bay, including the most recent ones in Sonoma Valley and Geyserville. Though there was no active fire burning in Calistoga, the small city of 5,000 was still under mandatory evacuation Thursday. "You are not welcome here," Mayor Chris Channing said at a news conference.
As for how the firefighters are doing emotionally, McLean said: "Firefighters pick this profession to assist the citizens of California. The amount of fires, seeing this devastation, it sure has an effect. But these men and women are here to help and get people to their properties."
The 8,000-plus Cal Fire crews have been working nonstop since the blazes first broke out Sunday night and are committed to the "constant battle," he said. "They are making headway," he said.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant added crews from Oregon, Arizona, Nevada and the U.S. Forest service have all been called in to help and "luckily," they have firefighters to spare because there are no active fires in their regions. "We've called in more resources than we need," he said.
Many are questioning just how the fires started, and PG&E has come under scrutiny after dispatch calls show that several calls were made Sunday night about downed power lines.
Berlant said that fire investigators have indeed ruled out lightning as a cause for the fires because there were no thunderstorms on Sunday night. But he stopped short of pointing blame or determining the cause or origin of the fires. "There are lots of rumors," he said, and the cause "remains under investigation."
As to what causes most fires? People.
"Ninety five percent of the time, here in California, fires are sparked by the activity of people, whether it be negligence, vehicles, smoking or downed power lines - a whole host of different causes."
In terms of fires, Cal Fire provided the latest updates on the wildfires on Thursday . A breakout of some of the largest fires:
Tubbs Fire: 34,270 acres, 10 percent containment. Started in Napa County near Calistoga but continued to burn in Sonoma County doing most of the damage in Santa Rosa. It forced new evacuations on Wednesday in Calistoga. (Grew about 6,000 acres from 28,000 acres on Wednesday, when it was zero percent contained.)
Atlas Fire: 43,762 acres, 3 percent contained. Started in Napa and Solano counties off Atlas Peak Road, forcing new evacuations in Green Valley. (Grew by about 1,000 acres, same containment at Wednesday.)
Nuns and Norbborm Fires: 14,698 acres, 3 percent contained. Started in Sonoma County. (Grew by about 1,000 acres, same containment as Wednesday.)
Pocket Fire: 8,130 acres. 0 percent containment. Started in Sonoma County off Pocket Ranch Road near Geyserville. (Grew from 1,800 acres on Wednesday, still at 0 percent contained.)
Partrick Fire: 10,817 acres, 2 percent contained. Started in Napa County west of Napa. (Same numbers as Wednesday.)
Pressley Fire: 473 acres. 1 percent containment. Started in Sonoma County, east of Rohnert Park. (Same numbers as Wednesday)
Adobe Fire: 7,955 acres and 1 percent containment. Started in Sonoma Co. near Kenwood. (Grew by about 1,000 acres.)
Redwood/Potter Fires: 32,100 acres, 5 percent contained. Started in Mendocino County west of Mendocino National Forest. Extends into Lake County. (Grew by about 3,000 acres, same containment as Wednesday.)
Sulphur Fire: 2,500 acres, 45 percent contained. Started in Lake County near Clearlake Oaks. (5 percent more containment than on Wednesday.)
La Porte Fire (Wind Complex): 6,059 acres. 25 percent contained. Started in Butte Co. Near La Porte Rd and Oro Bangor Hwy. (Grew by 3,000 acres and 10 percent more contained than Thursday.)
McCourtney Fire (Wind Complex): 76 acres 89 percent contained. Started in Nevada Co., located at McCourntey Rd. and Hwy 20, Grass Valley. (It was 65 percent contained on
Lobo Fire (Wind Complex): 829 acres and 52 percent contained. Started in Nevada Co., located Lone Lobo Trail. Rough and Ready. (It was 30 percent contained on Wednesday.)
Cherokee Fire: 8,360 acres. 65 percent contained. Started in Butte Co., off Cherokee Rd. and Zonalea Lane, Oroville.