(Associated Press photo)
NAPA COUNTY — As thousands of people are evacuated from some of the worst wildfires in California history, firefighters from throughout the state are heading into Napa County to help quell the blazes and protect the buildings that have not yet burned.
Watsonville Fire Department has sent two engines, and Santa Cruz has sent one.
Watsonville Fire Chief Pablo Barreto said the first engine arrived at midnight on Monday and immediately got to work battling the Atlas Fire, which has burned in Napa since Monday night and had grown to 26,000 acres by Wednesday morning.
The crew worked from Monday through Wednesday, and after a 24-hour break would return for another 48-hour shift, Barreto said.
“They have been working this whole time,” he said.
Another Watsonville crew left Tuesday, and both will stay no more than two weeks, Barreto said.
David Williams, who has lived in Napa County since 1970, said he saw one of the Watsonville crews defending his as-yet unburned home, along with those of his neighbors.
Williams, 82, described the area as “total chaos.”
“It’s the biggest disaster that has ever befallen Sonoma County,” he said.
Williams lives in Mission Highlands, which is about three miles from the center of Sonoma.
He said he and his neighbors largely ignored an evacuation order that was broadcast from a police car loudspeaker on Monday.
That changed on Tuesday, when police from as far away as Oakland closed the roads and ordered everyone to leave.
But Williams was in town on a grocery run when the police came by, and wasn’t allowed onto his road when he came back.
“There was no choice,” he said. “They showed up in force and told us we couldn’t go up there. I didn’t even have a toothbrush.”
Williams said that residents are having a hard time receiving updates on the fire, and have begun to rely on word-of-mouth reports from their equally besieged neighbors.
“It’s like we’re all suffering from a war,” he said. “It feels like a war zone, and you try to comfort each other.”
A sheriff’s deputy guarding Williams’ road on Wednesday told him that his neighborhood has not yet burned. But he has also been told not to expect to return home until at least Monday.
Williams said he sought refuge in a friend’s house in nearby Boyes Hot Springs, and has been spraying water on the roof lest the fires come his way.
“I’m exhausted,” he said. “I haven’t had any sleep since Sunday night.”
But such activities are difficult and dangerous thanks to heavy smoke, he said.
“The smoke is too dense to be able to see the flames, and the air is unbreathable,” he said.
Williams said the fires were preceded by heavy winds that blew at about 40 miles per hour. The resulting downed lines are suspected to have caused at least some of the fires.
“There have never been winds that severe in the time I’ve lived here,” he said. “I knew the power lines would be coming down.”
Williams was choking back tears when he expressed his gratitude for the firefighters who are battling the blazes.
“That’s my most important message,” he said. “Thank you.”