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California wildfires: Hospital patients airlifted to safety as flames rip though Napa Valley



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Hundreds of homes and a hospital were evacuated after a wildfire erupted in the heart of northern California’s Napa Valley wine country.

The wind-driven blaze spread across nearly 2,000 acres (809 hectares) forcing fire crews to fend off flames threatening neighbourhoods and vineyards.

Dubbed the Glass Fire, it broke out before dawn near Calistoga and raced towards the adjacent communities of Deer Park and St Helena, reaching within a mile of the Adventist Health St Helena hospital.

It is understood that all 55 patients there at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours.

A home in the region is destroyed by flames (REUTERS)

Hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams said although smoke shrouded the facility, the skies above were clear enough for helicopters’ airlift efforts.

“We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area,” she added.

It was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in a month, after a massive cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay region in August.

Authorities ordered 600 houses to evacuate on Sunday, with residents of 1,400 more warned to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, said Tyree Zander, a spokesman for the state’s forestry and fire protection department (CalFire).

Firefighters tackle the blaze (AP)

By evening, flames stoked by winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kph) had scorched about 1,800 acres (728 hectares) of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with little or no containment, Mr Zander said.

Napa and other wine-growing regions have been hit by wildfires in and around the Bay area for several years.

Susan Krausz, co-owner of Arkenstone Estate Vineyards in the Howell Mountain community of Angwin, said it would take days or weeks to assess the impact of the latest blaze on valley vintners.

Tom Kaljian, 78, a realtor who owns a house about halfway between Calistoga and St. Helena, defied evacuation orders to spend the day with his wife hosing down their home and dry brush along a fence line separating their property from the Silverado Trail, a key north-south roadway.

“We were told to get out of here, but I was trying to protect our little abode, so we stayed,” he said.

After firefighters told him the house was no longer in danger, he added, “I stopped watering at that point, and came in and took a nap.”

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The Glass Fire came as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company said it was temporarily halting power to transmission lines in parts of 16 counties across northern and central California to guard against greater wildfire risks in hot, windy, dry weather.

The public safety power shutoffs were expected to affect about 65,000 regional homes and businesses, said PG&E, the state’s largest electric utility.

A red flag warning for extreme wildfire risks for Napa Valley would run through Monday morning, Mr Zander said.

California wildfires have scorched more than 3.7 million acres in the first nine months of 2020, far exceeding any single year in state history, killing 26 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.

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