Justin Silvera came off the fire lines in Northern California after a grueling 36 straight days battling wildfires and evacuating residents ahead of the flames. Before that, he and his crew had worked for 20 days, followed by a three-day break.
Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.
“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.
His exhaustion reflects the situation up and down the West Coast fire lines: This year’s blazes have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire fighting forces to an extraordinary degree. And half of the fire season is yet to come. Heat, drought and a strategic decision to attack the flames early combined with the coronavirus to put a historically heavy burden on fire teams.
“There’s never enough resources,” said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. “Typically with Cal Fire we’re able to attack — air tankers, choppers, dozers. We’re good at doing that. But these conditions in the field, the drought, the wind, this stuff is just taking off. We can’t contain one before another erupts.”
Washington State Forester George Geissler says there are hundreds of unfulfilled requests for help throughout the West. Agencies are constantly seeking firefighters, aircraft, engines and support personnel.
Fire crews have been summoned from at least nine states and other countries, including Canada and Israel. Hundreds of agreements for agencies to offer mutual assistance have been maxed out at the federal, state and local levels, he said.
“We know that there’s really nothing left in the bucket,” Geissler said. “Our sister agencies to the south in California and Oregon are really struggling.”
Demand for firefighting resources has been high since mid-August, when fire officials bumped the national preparedness level to critical, meaning at least 80% of crews were already committed to fighting fires, and there were few personnel and little equipment to spare.
Because of the extreme fire behavior, “you can’t say for sure having more resources would make a difference,” said Carrie Bilbao, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
Andy Stahl, a forester who runs Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an advocacy group in Oregon, said it would have been impossible to stop some of the most destructive blazes, a task he compared to “dropping a bucket of water on an atomic bomb.”
But Stahl contends the damage could have been less if government agencies were not so keen to put out every blaze. By stamping out smaller fires and those that ignite during wetter months, Stahl said officials have allowed fuels to build up, setting the stage for bigger fires during times of drought and hot, windy weather.
That’s been exacerbated this year by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted U.S. Forest Service Chief Vickie Christiansen to issue a directive in June to fight all fires aggressively, reversing a decades-long trend of allowing some to burn. The idea was to minimize large concentrations of firefighters by extinguishing blazes quickly.
Fighting the flames from the air was key to the strategy, with 35 air tankers and 200 helicopters being used, Forest Service spokesperson Kaari Carpenter said.
Yet by Aug. 30, following the deaths of some firefighters, including four aviators, and several close calls, fire officials in Boise warned that long-term fatigue was setting in. They called for a “tactical pause” so fire commanders could reinforce safe practices.
Tim Ingalsbee, a member of the advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, said the June directive from Christiansen returned the forest service to a mindset prevalent for much of the last century that focused on putting out fires as quickly as possible. He said allowing more fires to burn when they are not threatening life or property would free up firefighters for the most dangerous blazes.
With no end in sight to the pandemic, Ingalsbee worried the focus on aggressively attacking every fire could prove lasting.
“More crews, more air tankers, more engines and dozers still can’t overcome this powerful force of nature,” he said. “The crews are beat up and fatigued and spread thin, and we’re barely halfway through the traditional fire season.”
Cal Fire’s roughly 8,000 personnel have been fighting blazes from the Oregon border to the Mexico border, repeatedly bouncing from blaze to blaze, said Tim Edwards, president of the union for Cal Fire, the nation’s second largest firefighting agency.
“We’re battle-hardened, but it seems year after year, it gets tougher, and at some point in time we won’t be able to cope. We’ll reach a breaking point,” said Edwards, a 25-year veteran.
The immediate dangers of the fires are compounded by worries about COVID in camp and at home.
Firefighters “see all this destruction and the fatigue, and then they’re getting those calls from home, where their families are dealing with school and child care because of COVID. It’s stressing them out, and we have to keep their heads in the game,” he said.
COVID also has limited the state’s use of inmate fire crews — either because of early inmate releases to prevent outbreaks in prisons or because many are under quarantine in those prisons, both Berland and Geissler said.
Aside from the human toll, the conflagrations in Colorado and Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, and now California and the Pacific Northwest have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
California alone has spent $529 million since July 1 on wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. By comparison, the state spent $691 million the entire fiscal year that ended June 30. The U.S. government will reimburse most state costs for the biggest disasters.
Back in the field, Silvera and his crew saved two people at the beginning of their 26-day duty tour. The two hikers encountered the crew after the firefighters themselves were briefly trapped while trying to save the headquarters building at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“We got in a bad spot, and there were a few hours there we didn’t know if we’d make it,” Silvera said. “Those people found us, and we wouldn’t have been in there.”
“That’s what you sign up for.”
New Fort Hood Commander Orders Training Pause to Rebuild Soldiers’ Trust
The new senior commander at Fort Hood, Texas, has ordered a training stand-down for all units as the first step in repairing the “erosion of trust” between soldiers and leaders that likely set the conditions for the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a high-profile case that has attracted national scrutiny.
Just two weeks after taking over as the deputy commander of III Corps on Sept. 2, Maj. Gen. John Richardson IV has launched a yearlong effort to heal the base’s deeply scarred image and begin rebuilding unit cohesion. The effort starts next week with Operation Phantom Action, a week-long training stand-down to give leaders time to start earning back the trust of their soldiers.
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Army Forces Command sent Richardson to replace Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt as the senior commander at Hood until the current III Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Pat White, returns next month. White has been deployed as the leader of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, which oversees the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Efflandt and other leaders at Hood are the subject of multiple investigations to determine the root reasons why the base has suffered 28 soldier deaths so far this year, including the tragic death of Guillen. The 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier was allegedly murdered by a fellow male soldier. Her family maintains that he had sexually harassed her, but she was afraid to report it to her leaders.
Rebuilding Lost Trust
Richardson believes he already has insights into Fort Hood’s problem and how to fix it.
“My assessment is that we do have some significant issues to tackle here at Fort Hood,” he told Military.com. “I think, first and foremost, you’ve got to admit that you have a problem before you can start to fix it. … We have had an erosion of trust between the soldiers and their leaders at echelon.”
Soon after taking command Sept. 16, Richardson, along with 1st Cavalry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, told brigade commanders that all leaders on Hood are going to return to the basics of building unit cohesion — a skill they said has been lost in the years of back-to-back deployments to combat zones.
“I am a true believer that cohesive teams are what win battles at the lowest level; it’s the platoon that wins wars,” Richardson said. “My assessment was that it really had to do with people and the time that we are investing in people, and the impact that is having on our ability to build cohesive teams that are based off of trust.
“So, if you are talking to soldiers and they say, ‘I don’t trust my squad leader with important information or sensitive information about my life,’ then you don’t have that level of cohesion you desire in a military outfit,” he added.
So far this year, Fort Hood has had 28 soldier deaths, including 10 ruled as accidents, eight as self-inflicted, two as illness, one killed in action and two that are pending or undetermined, according to Fort Hood numbers. There have also been five murders at Hood.
Overall, these numbers are comparable to posts of similar size, such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, according to Army figures.
There were no murders at Hood in 2018 or 2019; two in 2017; and none in 2016. By comparison, Fort Campbell has had three murders this year; three in 2019; three in 2018; two in 2017; and three in 2016, according to Army numbers.
The Fort Hood area, however, has had the highest average of violent felonies — to include violent aggravated assault, robbery and violent sex crimes — between 2015 and 2019, compared to Bragg and Joint Base Lewis McChord, according to Army figures. Hood had 129 cases, Lewis McChord had 109, and Bragg had 90 per year during that time period.
But Fort Hood’s problems became the focus of national attention when the remains of Guillen, who had been missing since April, were discovered near the base.
Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, who allegedly murdered Guillen on post, and 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, a civilian and the estranged wife of a Fort Hood soldier, reportedly smuggled her body to a remote site in Bell County, where they allegedly mutilated and disposed of it. Robinson shot and killed himself June 30 when confronted by police, and Aguilar was charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
Guillen’s family claims that Vanessa told them Robinson sexually harassed her, but she never reported it. Army Criminal Investigation Command said in early July that it found no evidence of sexual harassment.
The case horrified the country and quickly ignited a public outcry. It has led to multiple lawmakers sponsoring new legislation to put an end to the long-standing epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in the military.
The Army has named Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command and one of the service’s most senior commanders, to lead an in-depth investigation into the chain of command’s actions related to Guillen.
The service also created an independent panel that traveled to Fort Hood in August to conduct a separate review of the command climate there.
The findings from the independent review will not be released for another month, but Richardson said that “they were able to provide me an initial … indicator of what they think.”
“All it did was confirm what we were already seeing, and that is, there is a trust deficit between the soldiers and the leaders,” he said. “I think we already knew that and were moving out with Operation Phantom Action, but that just reinforced it for me.”
A Year of Change
Richardson stressed that Phantom Action is the beginning of what will likely be a yearlong process. The first phase of the effort will begin with an “action week” that runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 and is designed to create a sense of urgency to give leaders time to connect with soldiers.
“Next week is action week, so all the training that was planned has been cleared off the calendar,” Richardson said. “We are reprioritizing because that is what commanders do. They prioritize and prioritize resources, so I am prioritizing for you that you are going to put your people first and I am going to provide you the resource of time to do it.”
First on the list will be a directive that every leader will make contact with their soldiers’ family members, he said.
“If they are married, it will be their spouse, and if they are not, their mom or dad. And they are going to say, ‘Hey, I am Sgt. Richardson and I am Pvt. Thompson’s squad leader, and I just wanted to call and let you know. … I want you to please put my phone number into your contact, so if you ever have a question about his well-being or you know something that you think I should know, please don’t hesitate to call me.'”
This is key to establishing a relationship triangle, Richardson said. In one corner, there is the first-line leader. The family is in another corner, the soldier’s buddies are in the third corner, and the soldier is in the middle.
“That squad leader is responsible for creating a three-way conversation at a minimum between he and the family and he and the buddies,” Richardson said. “Because somebody always knows a nugget about that individual, that maybe the squad leader doesn’t. But if the squad leader knew, he or she could do something about it. … But a lot of times, the soldier maybe tells the family member but doesn’t tell the squad leader.”
Tightening Up on Standards
Another focus will require leaders to start being more consistent about enforcing standards.
“It seems fundamental in the Army, but we have drifted away from that in our leadership culture right now,” Richardson said.
Even small infractions, such as a soldier in the post exchange wearing an Army fitness uniform in the middle of the day, still need to be corrected, he said.
“We have been looking the other way on the little things and, when you look the other way on the little things, then the big things start happening and you have soldiers thinking my squad leader doesn’t enforce standards, so why would I report that I have been sexually harassed because he is probably not going to do anything for me,” Richardson said.
“We’ve got to break that mentality; we have to have our soldiers believe that their leaders — at echelon — squad leader, platoon leader, company commander, battalion commander, brigade commander and the deputy commanding general of the corps — that … they will take action if they know something is wrong.”
Leaders are also going to start having counseling sessions with their soldiers, a practice which was once commonly done in garrison life but fell out of practice when units were consumed with deploying, retraining and deploying to war zones over the past two decades, Richardson said.
“We are going to teach counseling skills because squad leaders — they are like, what, 23 years old — this is their first leadership job, and they have never had to do formal counseling,” he explained.
Counseling sessions should be conversational and designed to mentor soldiers to help them set goals, and “if they’ve got personal issues, how to get them the help that they need,” Richardson said.
Return to Life in Garrison
Some who held commands before the 9/11 attacks agree that young leaders have trouble adapting to a prolonged garrison environment, said Henry “Butch” Kievenaar, a retired Army colonel who served as the chief of staff for III Corps and Hood from 2012 to 2014.
“We had great combat leaders at all echelons, who had never served any time in garrison, and garrison is different than combat for a number of reasons,” he told Military.com.
When units are deployed, they tend to bond quicker because everyone is together all the time, said Kievenaar, who retired in 2015 after a 30-year career that included multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Operation Desert Storm.
“When you are living with them 24/7, it is much easier to understand your soldiers,” he said. “You’ve got a singular mission focus.”
In a constant garrison setting, it’s a challenge for leaders to remember that they have to stay involved with their soldiers’ lives during off-duty hours, he explained.
“It’s tough for young leaders to understand that, even when soldiers are not at work, they are your responsibility,” Kievenaar said, adding that “it requires more hands-on leadership,” especially on weekends.
“If you are coming in checking on your soldiers and seeing what is going on … it tells them you care, and it gives you an understanding of what is going on when you are not around.”
Richardson said the brigade commanders understand where he is going with his new approach, but he worries about his battalion commanders.
“I am seeing a challenge with the battalion commanders; they hear it, but they are struggling to visualize what we are talking about because they haven’t ever experienced it,” he said. “They haven’t experienced the traditional garrison life, and all they have known is this constant churn of deploy, redeploy, deploy, redeploy, which has kind of gotten us to where we are right now.
“So, what I am having to do is do a lot of hands-on coaching with battalion commanders because … battalion commanders are critical to this process.”
It’s for this reason that Richardson believes that younger soldiers don’t yet understand the purpose behind Operation Phantom Action.
“I have stopped soldiers walking down through the headquarters and say, ‘Hey, do you know what we are doing next week?’ And most of them know we are doing something, but they don’t know why,” he said. “They say, ‘I know we are taking the training off the schedule, and we are doing some counseling stuff.'”
When Richardson asks them why, they won’t know, or they’ll say, “‘because of all the things that have happened or because of everything that is in the paper,'” he said.
‘This is About Fixing the Army’
“This is not going to work if leaders at echelon, starting with myself, aren’t out on the ground making it happen,” Richardson said. “This is going to require myself, the command sergeant major, the brigade commanders, the sergeants major, and battalion commanders out of the office and on the ground stopping soldiers and talking to them, asking these questions and finding out if the word is getting down, and if it’s not — taking the time to pull that chain of command in and really coach, teach and mentor them.
“I am not out to cut people’s heads off. This is about fixing the Army, and we have to do it.”
If he sounds sure of himself, it may be because this is not the first time Richardson has faced a problem like this in his career.
Eight years ago, he was at Fort Hood, serving as the commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. The first 18 months of his command went smoothly, until two soldiers committed suicide and another was killed in downtown Killeen.
At that time, Gen. Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a lieutenant general serving as the III Corps Commander at Hood, Richardson remembers.
“He had me up on the rug here — ironically, about 50 feet from where I am standing now — and he said, ‘Hey look, Colonel, you’ve got some serious problems in your organization. If you don’t know your people and if you and your sergeant major can’t fix this, I will find a colonel and a sergeant major that can,'” Richardson said.
After looking at the cases of all three of the soldiers who died, it was clear that the “red flags were there and we should have known, if we would have known our soldiers better,” he said.
“I shut the regiment down for 30 days and took all the training off the calendar and said, ‘We are not going back to the field until we know our soldiers,'” he added.
His leaders pushed back. “They were like, ‘What do you mean we are not going to the field? We are on our way to National Training Center [for a predeployment exercise],'” Richardson said.
“And I was like, ‘We are not going to NTC at the rate we are going. We are all going to be out of a job, and not to mention it’s just the right thing to do. We don’t know our soldiers,'” he recalled. “And many of the things I learned from that experience, I am applying right now.”
— Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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3 Stocks Flashing Signs of Strong Insider Buying
If you really want to know which stocks the experts – and those in the know – are buying, pay attention to what they’re doing. Stock reports, company reviews, and press statements are helpful, but you’ll get significant information from watching what the insiders are up to.The insiders – the corporate officers and board members – have to disclose when they snap up shares to prevent any unfair advantages. Tracking their stock purchases can be a useful strategy because if an insider spends their own money on a stock, it could signal that they believe big gains are in store.So, investors looking for stocks that may be flying ‘under the radar,’ but with potential to climb fast, watching for insider purchases identify some sweet market plays. To make that search easier, the TipRanks Insiders’ Hot Stocks tool gets the footwork started – identifying stocks that have seen informative moves by insiders, highlighting several common strategies used by the insiders, and collecting the data all in one place.Fresh from that database, here are the details on three stocks showing ‘informative buys’ in recent days.TravelCenters of America (TA)We’ll start with a company that you probably don’t think about often, but that does provide an essential service. TravelCenters of America is the largest publicly traded owner, operator, and franchisor of full-service highway rest stops in the US. TA started out operating truck stops for rest, repair, and maintenance, and has since expanded to full-service fueling stations offering both gasoline and diesel, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and other rest stop amenities. Their network of rest stops is part of the infrastructure that makes long-distance motor transport, both private and commercial, possible in the USA.As can be imagined, the social lockdowns and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were not good for TA. The good news is, the worst of the pandemic hit during Q1, and the first quarter is normally TA’s slowest of the year. This year, the first quarter showed a net loss of $1.81 per share. In the second quarter, when warmer weather normally leads to increased driving, the pandemic restrictions were also – at least partially – lifted, and TA reported a sudden turnaround, with a 59 cent EPS profit. Even so, that missed the forecast by almost a dime. The outlook for Q3, normally TA’s strongest of the year, is for EPS of 73 cents.Turning to the insider trades, Adam Portnoy of the Board of Directors has the most recent informative buys. Earlier this month, he purchased over 323,000 shares, laying out more than $5.32 million for the stock. Analyst James Sullivan, of BTIG makes two observations about TravelCenters. First, he points out, “The long-haul trucking industry has an approximate 71% share of total primary tonnage in the U.S. freight industry, making it the primary mode of freight transportation.” Sullivan then adds that this opens up opportunity for TA going forward: “The increasing demands of the nation’s large trucking fleets for consolidated service providers that can provide fuel and truck service on a national basis appear likely to drive additional consolidation in the industry.”Sullivan rates TA shares a Buy, and his $34 price target suggests the stock has an impressive 82% upside potential for the coming year. (To watch Sullivan’s track record, click here)Overall, shares in TA are rated a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus, based on 5 recent reviews including 4 Buys and 1 Hold. The shares are selling for $19.24, and the $22.70 average price target implies room for 18% upside growth. (See TA stock analysis on TipRanks)Highwoods Properties (HIW)The next stock is a real estate investment trust. Highwood operates mostly in the Southeast US, but also in Pittsburgh, where it acquires, develops, leases, and manages a portfolio of suburban office and light industrial properties.Where most companies reported heavy losses during the corona crisis, HIW saw revenues in 1H20 remain stable. EPS has grown sequentially into Q1 and remained flat in Q2 at 93 cents. Both quarter beat EPS expectations.Despite the solid financial results, HIW shares have still not recovered from the market collapse of midwinter. The stock is down 27% year-to-date.Through all of this, Highwoods has maintained its dividend, as is common among REITs. The company has a 17-year history of dividend growth and reliability, and the current payment of 48 cents per common share has been stable for the past 7 quarters. At this level, it annualizes to $1.92 and gives a yield of 5.8%.Highwoods’ insider trading has come from Board member Carlos Evans, who purchased 10,000 shares for $337,000 dollars last week. His move was the first informative buy on HIW in the last 6 months.Truist analyst Michael Lewis is impressed by the quality of HIW’s portfolio. He writes, “We continue to believe that HIW’s portfolio is one of the best-positioned among traditional office REITs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rent collections have been excellent and there are no large near-term lease expirations. More broadly, the portfolio should benefit from being focused in drivable, close-in Sunbelt suburbs.”In line with these comments, Lewis rates the stock a Buy. His price target, $45, indicates a 31% potential upside from current levels. (To watch Lewis’ track record, click here)Overall, HIW has a cautiously optimistic Moderate Buy consensus rating from the Street. This breaks down into 2 Buy ratings and 1 Hold. We can also see from TipRanks that the average analyst price target is $43, which implies a ~25% upside from the current share price. (See HIW stock analysis on TipRanks)VEREIT (VER)The last stock on our insider trading list is another REIT. VEREIT is major owner and manager of retail, restaurant, and commercial real estate, with a portfolio that includes over 3,800 properties worth a collective $14.7 billion. The company’s assets are 45% retail and 20% restaurants; the rest is mainly office and light industrial sites. The total leasable square footage is 88.9 million square feet.So VEREIT is a giant in the REIT sector – but size didn’t protect it from the general downturn this year. Share performance has been lackluster, and revenues have been falling off gradually since Q4 of last year. The second quarter results showed $279 million on the top line, the lowest in a year – but the quarter also saw earnings turn back upwards, reaching 17 cents per share.VER cut back on its dividend earlier this year, reducing the payment to 8 cents per share to keep it in line with earnings. That dividend has been maintained, and the next payment is set for mid-October. The current dividend yield is 4.5%, well over double the average found among S&P stocks.The big insider trade on VER comes from Board member and CEO Glenn Rufrano. He spent over $252K on a block of 40,000 shares, pushing the insider sentiment on this stock into positive territory.Covering the stock for JPMorgan, 5-star analyst Anthony Paolone sees an important strength in VER, noting that the company has been successful in collecting rents during the crisis period. “[Its] collections showed good improvement going into July, with 85% collections in 2Q and 91% in July; when considering all the abatements and deferrals, it appears that at this point about 94% of pre-COVID contractual rental revenue has been addressed, and it seems to us that a normalized run rate for this vast majority of the portfolio should take hold in early 2021; the company is making progress in working through the remaining 5-6% of non-collections,” Paolone noted.Paolone gives VER an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and his $8 price target implies a 22% upside for the next 12 months. (To watch Paolone’s track record, click here)All in all, VER has drawn optimism mixed with caution when it comes to consensus opinion among sell-side analysts. Out of 5 analysts polled in the last 3 months, 3 are bullish on the stock, while 2 remain sidelined. With an 11% upside potential, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $7.25. (See VEREIT’s stock analysis at TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
Two California wildfires explode in wine country, forcing thousands to flee
SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands of fire-sapped California residents fled two new blazes Monday that exploded in size overnight, torching more than 25,000 acres.
The breakneck Zogg Fire had burned through 15,000 acres near Redding in Northern California, and the Glass Fire tore through 11,000 acres in the Napa and Sonoma wine country north of San Francisco, according to Cal Fire. Both fires were at 0% containment as of 9:30 a.m. PT.
The fires, driven by gusty winds, burned several structures overnight, including multiple homes in the city of Santa Rosa as well as the Chateau Boswell winery and the nearby Black Rock Inn in the Napa County town of St. Helena. The area contains more than five dozen wineries.
“That fire last night was moving at about 40 mph because of the wind, down the hill into the city of Santa Rosa, and we’re hoping for better conditions here today,” state Sen. Mike McGuire told KTVU-TV, adding that he has been in constant contact with Cal Fire.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Napa and Sonoma counties, where two smaller offshoots of the Glass Fire, the Shady and Boysen fires, merged to expand the blaze. More than 8,500 homes and other buildings were threatened.
The wine country has been scarred by terrible fires in recent years, including the 2017 Tubbs Fire that killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 structures.
“There have been numerous evacuations, that’s been going on through the night,” Cal Fire spokesman Tyree Zander said. “(The fires) have a rapid rate of spread, a dangerous rate of spread.”
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for most of Northern California through Monday. A heat wave in the West is combining with dry winds whipping the area, heightening the risk of wildfires this week.
Heightened danger: As heat wave brings ‘critical risks’ of wildfires, California contends with two new blazes
In Sonoma, about 4,500 residents of the Oakmont Village senior living community fled the fast-moving fires – many in nightclothes and robes and gripping canes and walkers as ash spewed in the sky – the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“It was scary and I didn’t expect it to be so close,” Doris Tietze, 91, an Oakmont resident, told the Chronicle.
The fire season in California has taken a huge toll already. Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 8,100 wildfires that have burned more than 3.7 million acres throughout the state, according to Cal Fire. And since Aug, 15 – when California’s fire activity elevated – 26 people have died and more than 7,000 structures have been destroyed.
Crews are currently battling 25 major wildfires with gusty winds and low humidity across the state, Cal Fire said.
The National Weather service said the winds driving the Zogg Fire will continue to be strong into the morning and afternoon before dying down in the evening. Winds combined with the low humidity are giving momentum to the fire.
“With low humidity, any fuel is just more prone to burn, especially with those dried-out fuels we have right now,” National Weather Service meteorologist Emily Heller said.
And 40 miles to the south, the enormous August Complex Fire continues to burn. The largest wildfire in state history, about 130 miles north of San Francisco, has charred more than 878,000 acres and was a major contributor to the dangerous air quality state residents were exposed to for days about three weeks ago and the apocalyptic skies over the Bay Area on Sept. 9.
The wildfires have made air quality an issue in recent weeks. Neither the August Complex nor the Creek Fire, which has incinerated more than 304,000 acres of a forest 60 miles northeast of Fresno, is yet 50% contained. So they continue to spew smoke and foul up the air in their surroundings and, depending on the wind, even hundreds of miles away.
People with respiratory ailments are especially susceptible to that harmful air, said John Watson, a research professor of air quality science at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.
Power is being shut off for 65,000 Northern California electric customers in 16 counties to prevent the spread of wildfires that have engulfed areas of the state, PG&E officials said Sunday. The shutoff was enacted as result of a red flag warning because of high winds, they said.
Contributing: David Benda, Redding Record Searchlight; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California wildfires: Glass Fire, Zogg Fire; wine country evacuations
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