A wind-driven wildfire has erupted in the heart of northern California's Napa Valley wine country and spread across more than 400 hectares, forcing the evacuation of several hundreds homes and a hospital.
The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out before dawn on Sunday near Calistoga, about 120 km north of San Francisco, and raced toward the adjacent towns of Deer Park and St. Helena, with flames advancing to within a mile of the Adventist Health St. Helena hospital.
Its cause was under investigation.
All 55 patients at the hospital at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours, beginning around 7 am local time, hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams said.
"We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area," she said, adding that while the facility was surrounded by smoke, the skies over the hospital itself remained clear enough for helicopters to land.
She said it was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in a month on the heels of a massive cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay region.
Evacuation orders also were posted on Sunday for Deer Park and several other Napa County communities, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Some 600 homes were under evacuation orders, with residents of roughly another 1400 dwellings warned to be ready to flee at a moment's notice.
About 5,000 people in all were affected by evacuation notices, said spokesman Tyree Zander.
By early afternoon, flames stoked by winds gusting up to 80 km/h had scorched 485 hectares of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with zero percent containment, Zander said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The Napa Valley, world renowned as one of California's premiere wine-producing regions, has been plagued by a series of wildfire outbreaks in and around the Bay area over the past several years.
Australian Associated Press