California's wine country residents facing fire fatigue

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Smoke rises over a vineyard as the Glass Fire burns, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Calistoga, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

NAPA, Calif. – Will Abrams and his family packed their pickup truck with laptops, clothes, sleeping bags and a tent and quickly left their rental home in California's wine country after seeing flames on a hill about a quarter-mile away Monday morning. It was their third hurried fire evacuation in as many years.

In 2017, Abrams woke up to find their Santa Rosa home on fire and cleared burning branches from the driveway so he could get his wife and children to safety. Their home was destroyed. Then last year, the family evacuated as another wildfire bore down on Sonoma County. They were terrified to cross into the San Francisco Bay Area amid smaller grassland fires sparked by power lines falling in the midst of strong, hot winds.

“This time we hurried up and packed up the car, and we were in gridlock traffic on (Highway) 12 while the flames were approaching from behind," Abrams said Tuesday. He and his wife tried to entertain the kids by making conversation so they wouldn't panic. “It was just obviously traumatic on a personal level, but also just that so little has changed since the fires of 2017 in terms of preparedness and prevention."

They have been told this home is still standing. But with the Glass Fire only 2% contained, the Abrams and their 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter are staying in Berkeley until they are allowed to return.

“I’m trying to prepare my kids and let them know that climate change is part of life and they’re going to have to deal with it as they get older and also trying to provide them a sense of safety and security. It's not easy. But we should not accept this is the way it's going to be," he said.

The Abrams family is among thousands of weary wine country residents confronting another devastating wildfire. The Glass Fire, which started Sunday, has scorched nearly 73 square miles (more than 188 square kilometers) and destroyed about 95 structures, including at least 80 homes.

It's the fourth major fire there in three years and comes ahead of the third anniversary of a 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people. Three fires, driven by gusty winds and high temperatures, merged into one on Sunday, tearing into vineyards and mountain areas, including part of the city of Santa Rosa. About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, including the entire 5,000-plus population of Calistoga in Napa County.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.