California wine country fire forces evacuation of hospital

By Reuters

A wind-driven wildfire has forced the evacuation of several hundred homes and a hospital in the heart of northern California’s wine country.

The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out before dawn on Sunday near in Calistoga in Napa Valley, and raced toward the adjacent towns of Deer Park and St Helena. The fire spread across more than 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and flames advanced within a mile of the Adventist Health St Helena hospital.

All 55 patients who were at the hospital at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours, 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 after 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 were affected by evacuation notices, he said.

By 1:30 pm, flames stoked by winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 km/h)had scorched some 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with zero per cent 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 cause of the fire was under investigation.

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 region was under a red-flag warning for extreme wildfire risks before of warm temperatures and strong winds. The utility company 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 the wildfire risks.

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 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.