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More homes evacuated as Northern California fires grow

As devastating wildfires continued to spread in Sonoma and Napa counties Wednesday, firefighters launched a desperate effort to extinguish key hot spots before heavy, fire-stoking winds could kick back up later in the evening.

Officials fear that strong winds forecast for Wednesday evening and Thursday morning will spread embers from the deadly Tubbs fire to populated areas of Santa Rosa and Calistoga that have so far been spared the flames — a development that would prompt new evacuations.

We are facing some pretty significant monsters,” Cal Fire incident commander Bret Couvea told a room of about 200 firefighters and law enforcement officials at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.

Already, the fires have scorched more than 100,000 acres and left at least 17 people dead. The quickening winds threatened to make containment of the fires even more difficult.

During the daytime, winds will be light, less than 5 miles per hours, from the north in the morning. They will increase to about 15 miles per hour in the afternoon in the valleys, officials said.

At night however, “the return of the north wind will have a strong influence on the southern portions of the Tubbs fire,” a Cal Fire weather report said. “Winds will be 25 to 30 miles per hour after 2 a.m. These strong winds have the potential to push the fire south back towards Calistoga and Santa Rosa, especially where the fire was active yesterday [Tuesday] on the north side.”

On Wednesday, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory evacuation order for residents of Middletown — which was heavily damaged in the Valley Fire just two years ago and rebuilt — as the Tubbs fire approached from the south.

Late Tuesday night, evacuations were ordered in Calistoga for the Tubbs fire, and in other areas of Napa and Sonoma counties for the Atlas Peak fire, the Nuns fire and the Pocket fire, officials said.

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