Flying cinders carried the fire across roads and ignited small patches through neighborhoods: A pile of wood chips in the Home Depot parking lot caught fire. Traffic lights at multiple intersections were not functioning, and columns of black smoke could be seen in the evergreen forests on the northern outskirts of the city.
The fires raged through the hills that are home to some of the country’s most prized vineyards. The main north-south highway that connects San Francisco to the northernmost parts of California was closed Monday as fire engulfed both sides of the freeway. Santa Rosa is a hub for tours into wine country, and at least two large hotels that cater to the wine tourism trade were destroyed by the fires.
North of Santa Rosa’s downtown, residents of the Overlook, a hilltop apartment complex, used fire extinguishers to put out flames engulfing cypress trees planted along a building. Minutes later, the flames returned. At least three engines and ladder trucks arrived but could not stop flames on one of the buildings from spreading to the roof.
“It looks like they’re giving up on that one,” said Derek Smith, a Santa Rosa resident watching the blaze whose house was several blocks away.
Belia Ramos, the chairwoman of the Napa County board of supervisors, said the county was dealing with three main fires. One has threatened more than 10,000 acres in northern Napa County, another has endangered 8,000 to 12,000 acres, and a third has affected about 2,000 acres, she said.
California was hit by fires throughout the summer. Late last month, several blazes led to the evacuation of about 1,000 people in Southern California. And on Monday, a brush fire in Anaheim burned at least seven homes.
“I’ve been with the department for 31 years, and some years are notorious,” Ms. Upton said, adding, “I’m afraid that 2017 is going to be added to that list now.”
Even into the early afternoon — many hours after the homes were destroyed in the Journey’s End retirement community in Santa Rosa — flames shot from a large propane tank with a roar that resembled an aircraft engine.
Richard Snyder and Robert Sparks, both residents of the retirement community, said their neighboring trailers had been incinerated. They lost televisions, books, laptops — and copies of the insurance policies they had taken out.
“This is all I have,” Mr. Snyder said, pointing to his jeans and turquoise T-shirt. “And one pair of glasses.”
The fire was so intense, it burned through the metal and glass trailers and safes that had been advertised as fireproof.
“It was locked,” Dana Walter, Mr. Sparks’s daughter, said of the safe. “Passports, ID cards, everything gone.”
Ofelia Razo, one of about a dozen residents whose houses were spared, fled with her purse in a pre-dawn evacuation with dozens of other residents. Her husband, Milton, took only his guitar.
When they returned about 10 hours later, Ms. Razo saw the smoking rubble in the distance and broke down.
But as she came closer, she saw that the fire had stopped at her wooden lattice fence. Her powder blue trailer was, bizarrely, untouched. Even the plastic flowers in a ceramic pumpkin vase on the porch were intact. Her red rose bushes were only lightly singed.
“It’s a miracle!” she said. “Gracias, Señor!”
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