More wind and dry air is in the California forecast today - so the danger isn't over yet. In all, there are 22 fires sweeping across wine country. Unlike those in remote areas, these infernos have already destroyed thousands of buildings.
Coffey Park homes burn early Monday Oct. 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. More than a dozen wildfires whipped by powerful winds been burning though California wine country. The flames have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and businesses and sent thousands of people fleeing.
450 people are still missing in northern California’s Sonoma County alone. At 4:00 p.m. Eastern Thursday, 26 people were already confirmed dead. These wildfires are now the deadliest in recent memory in California, eclipsing an Oakland fire in 1991. As you see on these maps, many of these fires are near major cities.
“Before European settlement, we would have had large, landscape style fires, events,” Tim Gallaher said. Gallaher is the natural resources manager for Metroparks Toledo. He also runs their prescribed burns team.
The Oak Openings and many of our parks once thrived after wildfires. Now city streets, and civilization largely put an end to that.
“This is a fire dependent ecosystem. We burn in those environments. So it does reduce fuel loading in those areas,” Gallaher said.
Much like in California, firefighters purposefully create small fires, called prescribed burns, to prevent full-on infernos like those out west.
“We’re just not as arid of a climate to start with... not as steep of terrain, so that's a part of it,” Greg Guess said.
Guess runs Ohio’s wildland fire response for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
“The Division of Forestry has roughly 100 employees. And we are all trained wildland firefighters,” Guess said.
Guess said most Ohio wildfires get put out before they reach the size or intensity of those near Santa Rosa.
“In Ohio, probably 90% of our fires in a given year will be put out, in wildland fires, will be put out by the local fire department and not require any additional suppression from ODNR,” Guess said.
Just like in California, access for Ohio wildland firefighters is one of the biggest issues. Gallaher from the Metroparks remembers one wildlife in the Maumee State Forest.
“Very difficult to access,” Gallaher said. “It was hard to tell what the extent of the fire was.”
So far, the ODNR hasn't been placed on standby, but they'll be ready for any alarm. Same thing for the Michigan DNR fire crews.
"Every year, you know, we have well over 50, and sometimes up to 100 different dispatches for firefighters and equipment that leave our state," Guess said.