Swiftly spreading wildfire erupts in California's Napa Valley wine country

By Stephen Lam | Sun, September 27, 2020 05:46 EDT

ST. HELENA, Calif. (Reuters) - A wind-driven wildfire erupted on Sunday in the heart of northern California's Napa Valley wine country and spread across more than 1,000 acres (404 hectares), forcing the evacuation of several communities and a hospital, authorities said.

The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out east of Calistoga, about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco, and raced toward the adjacent towns of Deer Park and St. Helena, with flames advancing to within a mile of the Adventist Health St. Helena hospital.

All 55 patients who were at the hospital at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours, beginning around 7 a.m. in the morning, hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams told Reuters.

"We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area," she said, adding that while the facility was surrounded by smoke, the skies over the hospital itself remained clear enough for helicopters to land and take off with patients who needed to be evacuated by air.

She said it was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in about a month, coming on the heels of a massive cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay region.

Evacuation orders also were posted on Sunday for several Napa County neighborhoods, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

By 1:30 p.m., flames stoked by strong, gusty winds had scorched some 1,200 acres of rolling hillsides, CalFire said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a Reuters photographer in St. Helena saw a number of structures that had been burned.

The Napa Valley, world renowned as one of California's premiere wine-producing regions, has been plagued by a series of wildfires outbreaks in and around the Bay area over the past several years.

The latest came as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced it was temporarily shutting off power to transmission lines in portions of 16 counties across northern and central California as a precaution against heightened wildfire risks posed by hot, windy, dry conditions.

The public safety power shutoffs were expected to affect some 65,000 homes and businesses in the region, said PG&E, the state's largest electric utility.

CalFire said a fire weather watch was due to go into effect on Monday across much of Southern California due to a forecast return of hot, gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity from San Diego to Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in St. Helena; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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