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More wildfire evacuations ordered as Northern California braces for powerful winds

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — More evacuations were ordered Thursday in Northern California as wildfire-weary residents braced for a return of powerful winds that could stoke a blaze burning in the region’s wine country.

The evacuations in the Napa Valley came as forecasters issued a red flag warning, the highest alert for wildfire danger, across large swaths of Northern, Central and Southern California. The alert went into effect on Thursday afternoon and is expected to remain in place through Friday.

Twenty-four thousand buildings in Napa and Sonoma counties, north of San Francisco, remained threatened by the Glass Fire, which ignited overnight Sunday in the Napa Valley and burned through nearly 57,000 acres as of Thursday afternoon, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox told reporters.

Nearly 150 buildings have been destroyed and dozens more have been damaged, though Cox said that number is likely to change as investigators continue surveying the area.

About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, NBC Bay Area reported. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, though two firefighters were forced to take cover in fire shelters while battling the inferno on Sunday.

Glass Fire (Samuel Corum / AFP - Getty Images)
Glass Fire (Samuel Corum / AFP – Getty Images)

Speaking Thursday from a burned-out elementary school in Napa County, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters that the scene was a familiar one. Many in the region north of San Francisco have evacuated their homes multiple times since 2017, when the deadly Tubbs fire tore through Sonoma and Napa counties, killing 22 and destroying thousands of buildings.

They’ve “been torn asunder by wildfires seemingly every single year,” he said, adding that the blazes are like a “drum beat where people are exhausted, concerned and anxious about their fate and their future, not just their safety.”

“Clearly, we have our work cut out for us,” he added.

He pleaded with residents to heed evacuation orders, saying that the red flag weather conditions will likely turn the vast majority of embers whipped up by powerful winds into likely sources of ignition.

In the meantime, air quality around much of the San Francisco Bay Area deteriorated as hazy, smoky conditions from the fires settled over much of the region. On Thursday, officials extended a hazardous air warning through Tuesday, pushing the number of “spare the air” alerts issued this year to 41, a record.

There are over 17,000 firefighters battling more than 20 major wildfires across California. Since mid-August, when thousands of lightning strikes ignited several of the largest wildfires in state history, 3.6 million acres have burned across the state, much of it Northern California, which recorded one of its driest winters on record.

The length of containment lines dug around wildfires in the state is so massive they could stretch from San Diego to New York City, Cal Fire director Thom Porter said Thursday.

“It’s likely that in the next day or two we’ll crest the 4 million acre mark,” he said.

Some officials in the state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have linked this year’s unprecedented wildfire season to climate change.

“Climate change isn’t something to address in the distant future. The climate crisis is here,” the governor tweeted Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Newsom said that since 1980, the average temperature in the state from June to September rose from around 71 degrees to about 74.

Other experts have pointed to a build up of dried out vegetation across California’s vast forestland — more than half of which is owned by the federal government — that has provided ample fuel for out-of-control megafires.

The infernos have claimed the lives of 30 people this year, with the most recent death being a man who was badly burned from the Zogg Fire in Shasta County.

Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said Wednesday that the man was transported to a hospital but later died of his injuries.

Four people, including the man, have been killed in the Zogg Fire, which has burned more than 55,000 acres and destroyed nearly 150 structures since it started Sunday. It was 26 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.

Magrini’s office identified one of the victims Thursday as Karin King, 79, of Igo, a small town 130 miles south of the Oregon state line. Her body was found on Zogg Mine Road, the street that Cal Fire lists as the location of the blaze.

Tim Stelloh reported from California. Minyvonne Burke reported from New York.

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