At least 17 people have died and around 2,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed as devastating wildfires sweep through California’s wine country. Over 25,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes.
Raging wildfires continued to ravage California’s wine country on Tuesday, killing at least 17 people and forcing firefighters to evacuate thousands of residents.
Most of the deaths occurred in Sonoma County, located just north of San Francisco, while some 25,000 people were forced to also flee from Napa and Yuba counties, where some of the largest blazes were reported. Over 150 residents in the county are reportedly missing.
“The weather has been working in our favor, but it doesn’t mean it will stay that way,” said Brad Alexander, a spokesman of the governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The blazes have also left at least 185 people injured. The wildfire was reportedly 40 percent contained by the end of Tuesday local time.
Officials said the winds propelled the blaze across 12.5 square miles (32 sq. kilometers) of northern Orange County.
Over 240 members of the California National Guard helped first responders by ferrying fuel and helping with medical evacuations.
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The scale and ferocity of the flames forced rescuers to focus on evacuating local residents, even if it meant losing structures to the fire. In all, some 2,000 homes and local businesses had been destroyed by Monday evening.
The devastating blazes prompted the governor of California, Jerry Brown, to issue a state of emergency. Brown wrote in the declaration: “These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents.”
California’s fire services reported on Monday evening that the fires covered around 73,000 acres (30,000 hectares), stretching across a 200-mile (322-km) region from north of the Bay Area, from Napa to Redding.
It remains unknown what caused the fires. While wildfires aren’t uncommon in California in October, fire officials said it was unusual for so many blazes to take off at the same time. Seventeen separate fires were reported in all.
Those flames were also fanned on Monday by powerful winds sweeping through California’s wine country. Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said that fire was burning “at explosive rates.”
The US National Weather Service issued a warning for the San Francisco area, noting that “any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly.”
Residents across the state described the battle to make it out of the fire and smoke. Mike Turpen, 38, said he was at a bar in the historic Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen early on Monday when a stranger in a smoke mask ran in telling everyone to evacuate.
Turpen said “it was like Armageddon was on,” as he raced home in his car. “Every branch of every tree was on fire.” Staying behind to protect his rental home, he said he awoke to find himself the last man on an abandoned and scorched street that was once full of houses and yards.
Jesus Torres told US broadcaster CBS that he and his family “could see the sky was getting red: we did not know it was fire until the last second because there was just smoke everywhere.” He added that his family hardly had any time to grab their valuables before abandoning their home.
rs, dm/bk (AP, AFP)