A wind-driven wildfire erupted on Sunday in the heart of northern California's Napa Valley wine country to spread across nearly 809 hectares, forcing the evacuation of a hospital and hundreds of homes, authorities said.
Fire crews were out in force, scrambling to fend off flames threatening neighborhoods and vineyards at the northern end of the famed wine-growing valley and surrounding hillsides, about 120 kilometers north of San Francisco.
The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out before dawn near Calistoga and raced toward the adjacent communities of Deer Park and St. Helena, with flames reaching within a mile of the Adventist Health St. Helena hospital.
The Global Supertanker drops retardant while battling the Glass Fire in Napa County, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (Photo: AP)
All 55 patients there at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours from about 7 am, hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams said.
"We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area," she said, adding that although smoke shrouded the facility, the skies above were clear enough for helicopters' airlift efforts.
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 about 600 homes evacuated 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). The notices affected at least 5,000 people, he added.
By evening, flames stoked by winds gusting up to 80 kilometers per hour had scorched about 728 hectares of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with little or no containment, Zander said.
The cause of the fire is being investigated. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a Reuters photographer in St. Helena saw some structures that had been burned.
The blaze erupted midway through the traditional grape-harvesting period in the Napa Valley, world renowned as one of California's premiere wine-producing regions. The area's 475 wineries account for just 4 percent of the state's total annual grape harvest but half of the retail value of all California wines sold, according to the Napa Valley Vintners trade group. Of Napa's 16 wine-growing districts the Howell Mountain area may have faced the greatest threat, said Lisa Covey, a spokeswoman for Hall Family Wines.