40 killed in deadliest California blazes

Reuters
Dry, warm gusts of wind were forecast Sunday as firefighters continued to grapple with the deadliest blazes in California’s history, which have killed at least 40 people.
Reuters
Reuters

Firefighters work to defend homes from an approaching wildfire in Sonoma, California, U.S. October 14, 2017.

Dry, warm gusts of wind were forecast Sunday as firefighters continued to grapple with the deadliest blazes in California’s history, which have killed at least 40 people and reduced entire neighborhoods to ash.

Fast-moving fires spread by shifting winds forced thousands more people to evacuate their homes on Saturday as the death toll crept upwards. Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for.

More than 10,000 firefighters supported by air tankers and helicopters battled 16 major wildfires in areas north of San Francisco that have consumed 86,000 hectares, or roughly 865 square kilometers — an area larger than New York City.

Arid winds were set to die down Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said, but no rain was forecast to fall on the fires till Wednesday.

The 40 confirmed fatalities, including 22 in Sonoma County, make it California’s deadliest fire since records began, surpassing the 29 deaths from the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.

Some victims were asleep when flames engulfed their homes, while others were unable to escape as 80km-per-hour winds drove the fire faster than they could flee.

With 235 people still missing on Saturday in Sonoma County alone and rubble from thousands of incinerated dwellings yet to be searched, authorities expect the death toll to climb.

Some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes, including 3,000 on Saturday from the city of Santa Rosa, about 80km north of San Francisco. The fires have damaged or destroyed about 5,700 structures.

“This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced,” California Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to a devastated city. “The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined.”

At least a dozen Napa Valley and Sonoma County wineries were damaged or destroyed, throwing the state’s wine industry and related tourism into disarray.

For the picturesque Napa Valley town of Calistoga, now evacuated, the winds were a double-edged sword. The town was spared by hazardous winds when they shifted, but Mayor Chris Canning warned a resurgence could pose a new threat.


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