NAPA, Calif. – The strongest earthquake in 25 years struck the heart of California’s wine country early Sunday, igniting gas-fed fires, damaging some of the region’s famed wineries and historic buildings, and sending more than 120 people to hospitals.
The magnitude-6.0 quake, centered near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills of northern California, ruptured water mains and gas lines, hampering firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes that broke out after the temblor struck at 3:20 a.m.
Dazed residents fearful of aftershocks wandered through Napa’s historic downtown, where boulder-sized chunks of rubble and broken glass littered the streets. Dozens of homes and buildings across the Napa Valley were left unsafe to occupy, including an old county courthouse, where a 10-foot wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for southern Napa County, directing state agencies to respond with equipment and personnel. President Barack Obama was briefed on the earthquake, the White House said, and federal officials were in touch with state and local emergency responders.
The temblor struck about six miles south of Napa and lasted 10 to 20 seconds, according to the United States Geological Survey. It was the largest to shake the San Francisco Bay Area since a magnitude-6.9 quake struck in 1989, collapsing part of the Bay Bridge roadway and killing more than 60, most when an Oakland freeway collapsed.
The earthquake sent at least 120 people to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, where officials set up a triage tent to handle the influx. Most patients had cuts, bumps and bruises, hospital CEO Walt Mickens said. Twelve people were admitted, including an adult and a 13-year-old boy in critical condition.
Napa Fire Department Operations Chief John Callanan said the city had exhausted its own resources trying to extinguish at least six fires after 60 water mains ruptured, as well as transporting injured residents, searching homes and collapsed carports for anyone trapped and responding to 100 reports of leaking gas.
Two of the fires happened at mobile home parks, including the one where four homes were destroyed and two others damaged, Callanan said. A ruptured water main there delayed efforts to fight the blaze until pumper trucks arrived.
Sunday’s quake was felt widely throughout the region, with people reporting its effects more than 200 miles south of Napa and as far east as the Nevada border.
Vintner Richard Ward of Saintsbury Winery watched Sunday afternoon as workers righted toppled barrels and rescued a 500-pound grape de-stemmer that the quake had thrown to the ground.
That’s what happens when you’re a mile from the epicenter, said Ward, who lost 300 to 400 bottles in the winery’s basement.
The grape harvest was supposed to start overnight Monday, but would now be pushed off a few days, he said.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said some 90 to 100 homes and buildings were deemed not habitable.
There’s collapses, fires, said Napa Fire Capt. Doug Bridewell, standing in front of large pieces of masonry that broke loose from an early 20th-century office building where a fire had just been extinguished. That’s the worst shaking I’ve ever been in.
The depth of the earthquake was just under seven miles, and was followed by numerous small aftershocks, the USGS said.