Glass Fire updates: 12th most destructive in CA history

The devastating Glass Fire burning in Napa and Sonoma counties is now halfway contained, with evacuation orders remaining in place for thousands while damage inspection teams continue to assess the wildfire’s extensive destruction, authorities say.

Since igniting outside of Calistoga on Sept. 27 and growing intensely toward Santa Rosa in its first 48 hours due to heavy wind gusts, the fire has now consumed at least 600 homes, Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit said in a Tuesday morning incident update. The state fire agency reports the blaze is now 66,840 acres and 50% contained.

Emergency officials in the past few days have reduced some mandatory evacuation orders to voluntary warnings, including all of the cities of Calistoga and St. Helena, the Sonoma County community of Kenwood and some neighborhoods on the east side of Santa Rosa inside city limits.

But numerous other orders have remained in place for more than a week, and some newer orders, particularly in parts of northern Napa County near the Lake County line, have been issued as recently as Sunday afternoon. Cal Fire says more than 21,000 structures are still considered threatened.

Up-to-date evacuation information, including details about the repopulation process for evacuated residents, is posted regularly to the Nixle webpages for the Santa Rosa Police Department, the city of Calistoga, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and the Napa County Office of Emergency Services. Updates are also available via the social media pages for those entities and Cal Fire LNU.

Cal Fire said Tuesday the Glass Fire burned with “moderate” behavior overnight, a less severe assessment than that of recent days as conditions have become less windy but remain dry. A chance of much-needed rain — currently a 30% likelihood for the Santa Rosa area, according to the National Weather Service — is finally in the forecast, expected Thursday night or early Friday and predicted to continue through Saturday, though there’s no estimate yet for how much precipitation may fall.

Damage figures remain preliminary at this point and are likely to grow, Cal Fire advises. Even so, at least 310 houses have burned down in Sonoma County and 290 in Napa County, with more than 150 others damaged between the two counties, Cal Fire said.

Napa County has seen a much larger commercial destruction toll, of 321 buildings lost — including a number of the region’s iconic wineries, restaurants and more — than the dozen reportedly destroyed in Sonoma County.

Hundreds more minor and outbuildings have shot the Glass Fire’s total past 1,400 structures destroyed, making it at least the 12th most destructive wildfire in California history, Cal Fire records show. Four of the state’s 12 worst, by that measure, ignited this August or September.

The Glass Fire is just a few dozen shy of the 1,490 buildings destroyed by the CZU Lightning Complex, in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties; and the 1,491 lost to the sprawling LNU Lightning Complex, which burned in portions of Sonoma and Napa along with Solano, Yolo and Lake counties. Those two fires both sparked this August, amid lightning as their names suggest, and reached full containment in September.

Five of the 13 most destructive wildfires in state history sparked within the past five years in the Napa-Sonoma area: this year’s Glass and LNU Complex fires, the Tubbs Fire and Nuns Fire in October 2017 and the September 2015 Valley Fire. Those major blazes have combined for 34 confirmed deaths — 22 in the Tubbs Fire, five in the LNU Complex, four in the Valley Fire and three in the Nuns Fire.

Cal Fire maintains nearly 2,800 personnel assigned to the Glass Fire, which has not resulted in any reported deaths or injuries as of Tuesday morning. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Climate change and California wildfires

Wildfires have always been part of life in California. The past four years have brought some of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the state’s modern history.

Nearly 180 people have lost their lives since 2017. More than 41,000 structures have been destroyed and nearly 7 million acres have burned. That’s roughly the size of Massachusetts.

So far this year, at least 30 people have died, according to Cal Fire.

Meanwhile, this year’s August was the hottest on record in California. A rare series of lightning storms sparked a series of fires, including the August Complex that has burned nearly 1 million acres, making it by far the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history.

The 2017 wildfire season occurred during the second-hottest year on record in California and included a devastating string of fires in October that killed 44 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 buildings in Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties.

The following year was the most destructive and deadliest for wildfires in the state’s history. It included the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, and the enormous Mendocino Complex.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.

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