Updated 4:45 am, Monday, October 9, 2017
Several massive wildfires were burning out of control in Napa and Sonoma counties early Monday morning, forcing the evacuation of neighborhoods and at least one Wine Country resort and the shutdown of major roadways as firefighters sought to halt the advance of infernos driven by powerful winds.
There was no immediate information on damage and injuries — nor an explanation for the sheer number of fires — but structures including homes were burning in both counties, according to authorities and witnesses.
The series of fires began to ignite late Sunday and multiplied as the night went on, impacting four counties. In Mendocino County, authorities evacuated communities near Redwood Valley and Willits. And in Marin County, officials said just after 3 a.m. that a grass fire had closed Highway 37 between Highway 121 and Lakeville Highway.
All over the region, flames raced across fields and freeways and skies filled with embers and ash. The National Weather Service said the blazes, which caused power outages and blanketed much of the Bay Area in smoke, were fanned by strong and dry northeast winds.
In Napa County, the Atlas Fire broke out near Atlas Peak Road and blackened hundreds of acres in a famed wine-growing area northeast of the city of Napa and the Silverado Trail. A second Napa County blaze to the northwest, near Calistoga, forced residents to flee their homes as well.
Evacuation centers were set up at the Napa County Fairgrounds at 1435 North Oak St. in Calistoga and CrossWalk Community Church at 2590 First St. in Napa.
In the Kenwood area, east of Santa Rosa, evacuations were ordered along Porter Creek, Petrified Forest, Franz Valley and Mountain Home Ranch roads.
In northern Santa Rosa, evacuations were ordered for residents and businesses in the Skyfarm Drive, Fountaingrove Parkway and Montecito Heights areas east of Highway 101, according to the Police Department.
Just after 2 a.m., though, Santa Rosa police reported the fire had jumped Highway 101 and “ignited structures” west of the freeway near a Kohl’s department store on Hopper Avenue. Evacuations were then ordered for that area.
“This is a life threatening event,” officials said. “Leave immediately.”
Among those who left the Hopper Avenue area were 11 members of the Flores family, who woke up and piled into two vehicles with four dogs after being jolted awake by neighbors. They said the air was thick with smoke and the wind was blowing so hard that trash bins toppled over.
“We couldn’t really see anything,” said Bradley Flores, 15. “We just got our dogs and got into the car and left. The wind was so bad our car was shaking.”
He spoke from the parking lot of a Chevron gas station in Petaluma. The lot was full of evacuees who were fueling up, buying water and talking on cell phones.
Santa Rosa evacuees were directed to the Finley Community Center in that city, and when it filled up, were steered to Santa Rosa’s Veteran’s Memorial Building at 1351 Maple Ave. or the Petaluma Community Center at 320 North McDowell Ave.
In Napa County, guests of the Silverado Resort and Spa on Atlas Peak Road said they had been evacuated in a rush as flames approached. The resort had hosted the Safeway Open, a PGA Tour event, which ended Sunday.
“We were sleeping, but we kept smelling smoke,” said Chris Thomas, 42, of Kirkland, Wash., who arrived in the Napa Valley late Sunday with his wife, Marissa Schneider, for a wine-tasting trip.
They saw a firetruck pass, then were ordered to leave by loudspeaker. The power went out. Then things went downhill fast.
“It was surreal,” Thomas said. “When I started loading stuff into the car it was a hell-storm of smoke and ash. There were 30 to 40 mph winds. I couldn’t even breathe, so I ran back to the unit to get Marissa. It was so smoky I went to the wrong unit.
“When I found her I said, ‘Forget it, let’s just go.’ It went from being an annoying evacuation to something really scary.”
Schneider said, “Debris was gusting around. The flames were about 100 feet from our door. It was scary.”
They drove to downtown Napa and found a hotel room, though they were wary of being evacuated again.
On Highway 121 between Sonoma and Napa, flames chewed up vegetation on both sides of the road, shooting embers as a stream of people fled the area. Some drivers pulled over to the side of the road at safe spots, looking back at the fires. Police and firefighters tried to keep people moving.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Office said all residents from Atlas Peak Road east to Circle Oaks near Highway 121 were evacuated. Earlier, officials evacuated Soda Canyon residents. The Sheriff’s Office said evacuations were also ordered near Calistoga, from Knights Valley to Tubbs Lane, because of the other blaze.
In Sonoma County, authorities were responding to other wind-driven fires. The Sheriff’s Office said fires had broken out at Mark West Springs and Riebli roads in Santa Rosa, at Shiloh and Conde roads in Windsor and at Highway 116 and Fredericks Road in Sebastopol.
“The strong winds are making these fires difficult,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
Officials said Sonoma County emergency dispatchers were being “overwhelmed by 911 calls” from residents smelling smoke, adding, “Please only call 911 if you see actual unattended flames.”
Authorities in Marin and San Francisco counties made the same plea, asking residents who smell smoke not to call 911 unless they see flames.
Peter Fimrite, Jill Tucker and Demian Bulwa are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @pfimrite @jilltucker @demianbulwa