The death toll from a wildfire raging in Northern California wine country has claimed another life as firefighters battle blazes and brace for a new bout of high winds.
- Fires in California alone have burned more than 1.5 million hectares since January
- More than 80,000 people are under evacuation orders in Northern California
- The fires have also damaged wine crops in the region
The fourth victim, a man who was not identified, died in hospital after suffering significant burns from the so-called Zogg fire complex, said Shasta Country Sheriff Eric Magrini.
“It’s unfortunate, my condolences go out to a fourth death that we’ve had as a result of this,” Sheriff Magrini said.
This follows the discovery of three bodies on Monday (local time) by local authorities. The identities and the exact location of the deceased have not been released.
Diminished winds across California’s wine-growing country assisted fire crews in making some initial headway against two blazes, which have scorched well over 40,000 hectares combined since they erupted about 320 kilometres apart over the weekend.
On Wednesday, crews fighting the Zogg Fire in Shasta County and a separate blaze dubbed the Glass Fire in the Napa and Sonoma counties scrambled to reinforce their control lines and reduce hotspots while weather remained in their favour.
Their efforts came as a red-flag warning for heightened wildfire risks, including extreme winds, was due to be reinstated for areas just north of San Francisco Bay.
Above-normal heat and extremely low humidity have persisted, even after fierce winds that fanned the explosive fires earlier in the week subsided.
‘Time to buckle down’
Authorities were also on guard for a return of high winds in Shasta County, closer to the Oregon border, California Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials said.
“Now’s the time for our firefighters to buckle down,” Cal Fire assistant chief Bill See said during a late-morning update on the Glass Fire.
He added that the Napa Valley resort town of Calistoga — known for its hot springs, mud baths and wine-tasting rooms, and under full evacuation since late Monday — was a particular focal point for fire-protection efforts.
The Glass Fire has already destroyed 80 homes and 32 other structures, including the Chateau Boswell winery and a farmhouse containing storage, bottling and fermentation facilities at the Castello di Amorosa winery, built to resemble a 13th-century Tuscan castle. The castle itself was unscathed.
Some 80,000 people have been placed under evacuation orders, including all 5,300 residents of Calistoga.
The Zogg fire, burning near the town of Redding, has destroyed at least 146 structures, with some 15,000 structures listed as threatened and 2,200 residents under evacuation orders or advisories.
The causes of the two fires are under investigation.
Both were fuelled by overgrown thickets of tinder-dry grass scrub covering the hilly, rugged terrain in each area.
Fires contaminate Californian wine crop
The Glass Fire struck midway through the traditional grape-harvesting season in Napa and Sonoma counties, both world-renowned among California’s wine-producing regions and still reeling from a cluster of large wildfires earlier this summer.
The full effect on the region’s wine business remained to be seen. But industry officials said some vintners would likely scale back production of certain wines due to smoke exposure to grapes still on the vines when the fires struck.
Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of their crop.
The blazes marked the latest flashpoints in a destructive spate of wildfires this summer across the US’s West Coast.
California fires have scorched more than 1.5 million hectares since January — far exceeding any single year in state history.
They have been stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of climate change-induced extreme heat, high winds and dry-lightning sieges.
More than 7,200 homes and other structures have burned statewide this year.