California fire victims return home

As crews gain ground, California wildfire victims are headed home

With the winds dying down, fire crews gained ground as they battled the wildfires that have devastated California wine country and other parts of the state over the past week, and thousands of people got the all-clear to return home.

While the danger from the deadliest, most destructive cluster of blazes in California history was far from over, the smoky skies started to clear in some places. People were being allowed to go back home in areas no longer in harm’s way, and the number of those under evacuation orders was down to 75,000 from nearly 100,000 the day before.

Many began to take the first steps toward rebuilding their lives.

“This is my home I’m going to come back without question,” said Howard Lasker, 56, who returned Sunday with his daughter to view their torched house in Santa Rosa. “I have to rebuild. I want to rebuild.”

The blazes were blamed for at least 40 deaths and destroyed some 5,700 homes and other structures. The death toll could climb as searchers dig through the ruins for people listed as missing. Hundreds were unaccounted for, though authorities said many of them are probably safe but haven’t let anyone know.

Related: Death and destruction, hope and heroism in California fires

In hard-hit Sonoma County, Sheriff Rob Giordano said authorities have located 1,560 of the more than 1,700 once listed as missing. Many of those names were put on the list after people called from out of state to say they couldn’t reach a friend or relative.

Authorities said they will not let people return home until it is safe and utilities are restored. Pacific Gas and Electric Company said it expects to restore power and gas to the area by late Monday.

Many evacuees grew increasingly impatient to go home — or at least find out whether their homes were spared. Others were reluctant to go back or to look for another place to live.

Juan Hernandez, who escaped with his family from his apartment Oct. 9 before it burned down, still had his car packed and ready to go in case the fires flared up again and threatened his sister’s house, where they have been staying in Santa Rosa.

“Every day we keep hearing sirens at night, alarms,” Hernandez said. “We’re scared. When you see the fire close to your house, you’re scared.”

At the Sonoma fairgrounds, evacuees watched the San Francisco 49ers play the Redskins on television, received treatment from a chiropractor and got free haircuts.

Michael Estrada, who owns a barber shop in neighbouring Marin County but grew up in one of the Santa Rosa neighbourhoods hit hard by the blazes, brought his combs, clippers and scissors and displayed his barbering license in case anyone doubted his credentials.

“I’m not saving lives,” he said. “I’m just here to make somebody’s day feel better, make them feel normal.”

Lois Krier, 86, said it was hard to sleep on a cot in the shelter with people snoring and dogs barking through the night.

She and her husband, William Krier, 89, were anxious to get home, but after being evacuated for a second time in a week Saturday, they didn’t want to risk having to leave again.

“We’re cautious,” she said. “We want to be safe.”

Related: Deadly California wildfires force thousands to evacuate

Nearly 11,000 firefighters were still battling 15 fires burning across a 100-mile swath of the state.

In the wooded mountains east of Santa Rosa, where a mandatory evacuation remained in place, a large plume of white smoke rose high in the sky as firefighters tried to prevent the fire from burning into a retirement community and advancing onto the floor of Sonoma Valley, known for its wineries.

Houses that had benefited from repeated helicopter water drops were still standing as smoke blew across surrounding ridges. A deer crossed the highway from a burned-out area and wandered into a vineyard not reached by the flames.

Those who were allowed back into gutted neighbourhoods returned to assess the damage and, perhaps, see if anything was salvageable.

Jack Daniels had recently completed a year-long remodel of his Napa house near the Silverado Country Club and watched it go up in flames last week as he, his wife, 7-year-old grandson and two pugs backed out of the driveway.

His neighbours, Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara, 98, were the oldest victims identified so far in the wildfires.

Daniels, 74, a wine importer and exporter, said he lost everything left behind, including his wife’s jewelry and 3,000 bottles of wine in his cellar.

“It’s heartbreaking,” the 74-year-old said. “This was going to be our last house. I guess we’ve got one more move. But we’re fortunate. We got away. Most things can be replaced. The bank didn’t burn down.”

___

Melley reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Santa Rosa and Janie Har and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

___

Follow the AP’s complete wildfire coverage here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires

Sudhin Thanawala And Brian Melley, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

‘Someone knows something’: a look into Vancouver Island missing persons with interactive map

There are more than three dozen people listed as missing throughout Vancouver Island

Big Beach parties spark concern in Ucluelet

“You find needles, left over party debris, bottles and still burning fires.”

Ucluelet’s Terrace Beach Resort is for sale

The commercial offering of 21 suites and cabins was recently listed for $4,495,000

Young tourist caught untying boats from Ucluelet dock

“He was just untying the boats and watching them float away,” said Harbour Master Kevin Cortes.

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Most Read