Northern California Wildfires: Firefighters Continue to Battle Blazes, Hope for Reprieve

Updated 11/2/17: Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2017-09: Fannie Mae Extends Modification for Disaster Relief and Other Clarifications for Mortgage Loans Impacted by Disaster Events.

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Updated 11/2/17: Freddie Mac issued a release outlining the expansion of its requirements for mortgages held by borrowers whose mortgaged premises or places of employment are located in any eligible disaster area designated on or after August 25, 2017.

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Updated 10/24/17: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued FHA INFO #17-48: FHA Disaster-Related Policy Waivers Issued for Presidentially-Declared Major Disaster Areas in Puerto Rico and California.

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Updated 10/20/17: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued FHA INFO #17-47: Extension of Initial Disaster Foreclosure Moratorium for Properties in Specified Areas Impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (ML 17-15); SF Claims: Suspended Claim Dashboard; Training Opportunities.

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Updated 10/19/17: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a press release titled HUD Announces Disaster Assistance for California Wildfire Victims.

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Updated 10/15/17: FEMA issued an update to a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in California affected by wildfires beginning October 8 and continuing.

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Updated 10/14/17: FEMA issued an update to a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in California affected by wildfires beginning October 8 and continuing.

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Updated 10/13/17: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-17-31: Special Relief Following California Wildfires.

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Updated 10/13/17: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a VALERI Servicer Newsflash containing information regarding natural disaster impacted loan reporting.

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Updated 10/13/17: Fannie Mae issued a press release titled Fannie Mae Reminds Homeowners and Servicers of Mortgage Assistance Options for Areas Affected by the California Wildfires.

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Updated 10/13/17: Freddie Mac issued a press release titled Freddie Mac Confirms Disaster Relief Policies Amid California Wildfires.

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Updated 10/13/17: FEMA issued an update to a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in California affected by wildfires beginning October 8 and continuing.

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Updated 10/12/17: FEMA issued an update to a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in California affected by wildfires beginning October 8 and continuing.

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Updated 10/10/17: California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued an emergency proclamation for additional areas affected by the Atlas Fire.

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Updated 10/10/17: FEMA issued a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in California affected by wildfires beginning October 8, 2017 and continuing. 

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Updated 10/10/17: California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a state of emergency for eight counties affected by several wildfires.

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Link to Declaration 2

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October 9, 2017

The deadly wildfires that have ravaged Northern California, killing at least 17 people, caught many residents by surprise, sweeping into their neighborhoods after they had gone to bed and leaving them precious few minutes to escape.

Some evacuated in the nick of time. Others weren't as lucky. And nearly everyone in the region is grappling with near-apocalyptic devastation — homes burned to a crisp, once-idyllic communities turned into ash-covered shells.

"You can see folks' cars parked in their driveways. They didn't even have a chance to get into their cars and drive them away in some cases," said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. "This was at night. People were asleep, so they were woken and they ... ran for their lives."

Karissa Kruse, who lost her home in the hard-hit Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, was awoken by a knock on her door at 2:30 a.m. Monday morning. It was a neighbor, telling her they had to leave immediately.

"We took about 10 minutes to scoop up the cats, grab my ID," Kruse, who is the president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, told NBC News. "You realize how very little anything material means to you when you're in that situation."

With little containment, fire crews were desperate for the relief of cooler temperatures and weakening winds that came Tuesday.

Authorities continued to grapple with containing the 17 firestorms raging simultaneously across the state's wine country, including Napa and Sonoma counties, where fierce winds and months of dry weather helped to kindle the flames.

Two more deaths were confirmed Tuesday night in Sonoma County, raising the number there to 11 and the statewide total to 17. Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said at least 115,000 acres had burned so far — about 2½ times the size of Washington, D.C. Firefighters from across California and Nevada were called in as reinforcements.

"The fires are still out there, and they are still actively growing," Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said at a news conference.

Forecasters said the renewed threat from offshore winds and lower humidity could return Wednesday, hindering any progress.

The two largest fires — the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and the Atlas Peak Fire in Napa County — torched 28,000 and 26,000 acres, respectively. The Tubbs Fire remains uncontained, and the Atlas Peak Fire is only 3 per cent contained.

More than 2,000 homes and commercial structures were destroyed, many in Santa Rosa, a city of more than 167,000. Pacific Gas & Electric said late Tuesday afternoon that about 75,000 customers remained without power, 50,000 of them in the Santa Rosa area

"The fires are still out there, and they are still actively growing," Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said at a news conference.

Forecasters said the renewed threat from offshore winds and lower humidity could return Wednesday, hindering any progress.

The two largest fires — the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and the Atlas Peak Fire in Napa County — torched 28,000 and 26,000 acres, respectively. The Tubbs Fire remains uncontained, and the Atlas Peak Fire is only 3 per cent contained.

More than 2,000 homes and commercial structures were destroyed, many in Santa Rosa, a city of more than 167,000. Pacific Gas & Electric said late Tuesday afternoon that about 75,000 customers remained without power, 50,000 of them in the Santa Rosa area.

At least 185 people had been treated for injuries at three hospitals run by St. Joseph Health of Sonoma County, the system said Tuesday. Most were treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, many of them suffering respiratory-related conditions, it said.

Three patients remained in intensive care, and six others were transported to dedicated burn centers, the health system said. At least four women went into active labor during the fires and delivered their babies at Petaluma Valley Hospital, it said.

Napa Valley Vintners, the trade association for America's premier wine region, said four wineries "suffered total or very significant losses due to the fire."

At least nine others reported some damage, said the association, which cautioned that it had yet to hear from some wineries in the most vulnerable areas of the valley.

Brian Gilman of Santa Rosa lost nearly everything. In the rubble, he found his mother's ruby ring.

"Everything else is devastated," he said. "But the things that she asked for, amazingly, are still here."

Officials said they were still concerned about safety and urged residents not to try to return home.

Sonoma County officials have fielded about 240 missing-persons reports, Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters, 57 of whom had been found by Tuesday afternoon.

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, visited the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services to get a read on the situation.

"It is heartbreaking to think that many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable, in some cases senior citizens who were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes," Pence said.

Among them were Charlie Rippey, 100, a World War II Army veteran, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara, in Napa County. A son, Chuck Rippey, told NBC Bay Area that his parents' caregiver was unable to escort them to safety before the roof caved in.

"All the windows started to explode," Rippey said. "Smoke and heat, all that everywhere. And she just couldn't find them."

The Rippeys, who were originally from Wisconsin, celebrated 75 years of marriage with all five of their children on March 20, an event that was marked at the time by The Napa Valley Register.

Charlie Rippey, a mechanical engineer by trade who turned 100 in July, rose to captain during World II, serving in Europe and North Africa, the newspaper said. Sara Rippey was a homemaker who was devoted to bridge.

Another son, Mike Rippey, told The Associated Press from London that he and his brothers and sisters didn't believe either of their parents could have soldiered on without the other.

"We knew there's no way they would ever be happy, whoever was the last one," said Rippey, who was making preparations to fly to Napa. "So they went together, and that's the way it worked."

John Bailey, an associate professor of forest engineering, resources and management at Oregon State University, said a perfect storm allowed the intense blazes to ravage Northern California.

"Hot, dry conditions, and then throwing in winds, really expands burnability," he said, adding: "We just have an unprecedented amount of fuel on our landscapes."

Collectively, the fires are among the deadliest in the state's history. The last single fire to kill as many people was San Diego County's Cedar Fire in October 2003, which destroyed 2,200 homes and was started accidentally by a hunter.

Authorities said it's too soon to know how the new blazes started. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to the state's request for federal funds to help with the recovery

Source: NBC News

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