What We Know So Far
- Some of the most destructive wildfires in California's history are sweeping through the northern part of the state, destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
- The death toll for firestorm reached at least 42 on Wednesday, making it the deadliest spate of fires in state history. Dozens are still reported missing.
- Thousands of people remain affected by evacuation orders since the fires ignited overnight Oct. 9.
- At least 7,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the flames, with roughly 170,000 acres burned by multiple fires in Northern California.
- The Tubbs fire in Sonoma County set the record for most destructive in state history.
- States of emergency were declared for the hardest-hit counties, including Sonoma, Napa, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, and Nevada, as well as Orange in Southern California.
- The wildfires are being fueled by years of drought, a growth spurt of now–tinder dry vegetation, and gusty winds.
A new record for destruction by a single wildfire is set with 5,300 structures destroyed
The Tubbs fire in Sonoma County has become the most destructive fire in California's history, officials announced Friday.
The blaze, which was one of more than a dozen initial wildfires to explode into a Northern California firestorm Oct. 9, has so far destroyed 5,300 homes, businesses, and other structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
The second most destructive wildfire in state history was the Tunnel fire in Oakland Hills in 1991 that destroyed 2,900 structures.
The Tubbs fire, which was 93% contained Friday morning after burning more than 36,400 acres, has also been the most deadly, killing 22 of the 42 people who have so far perished as a result of the firestorm.
Also in Sonoma County, the Nuns fire was 85% contained after burning 54,382 acres, and the Pocket fire, having scorched 16,552 acres, was 82% contained, Cal Fire reported. Together with Tubbs fire, the city of Santa Rosa put the overall estimated damage at 6,873 structures destroyed.
Crews fighting wildfires in Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties have achieved containments levels around 90% as rain and cooler temperatures bring much needed relief.
Rain falls for the first time over Northern California wildfires
A light rain began to fall in Northern California on Thursday evening where wildfires that left more than 40 people dead and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses continued to burn.
The National Weather Service reported the rain began around 5:15 p.m. at the fire camp at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. By 6:50 p.m., up to a tenth of an inch of rain had fallen over fire zones, a CBS San Francisco meteorologist said on Twitter.
Rain was expected to continue through the night.
For residents, the change in weather was cause for celebration. High temperatures, dry conditions, and intense winds had caused the fires to burn uncontrollably for days. As of Thursday, while the fires were for the most part contained, they continued to burn.
The Tubbs Fire was 92% contained and had burned 36,432 acres, according to CalFire. The Nuns Fire was 84% contained and burned 54,423 acres. The Atlas Fire was 86% contained at 51,624 acres, and the Redwood Valley Fire was 85% contained after burning 36,523 acres.
Over 7,000 homes and structures destroyed in Northern California's wildfires
More than 7,000 homes and structures were destroyed in the firestorm that has ravaged Northern California, officials said Thursday, and that number is expected to rise.
There are also 17,000 residents still under evacuation orders, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
As fire crews made progress in containing the large fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, a new fire that broke out on Monday in the Santa Cruz mountains had grown to 300 acres, threatening 300 homes. Authorities hope that the possibility of rain and significantly lower temperatures in Northern California will aid in the battle to control the new blaze.
California Gov. Jerry Brown also issued an executive order that aims to reduce red tape related to recovery efforts. The order, for example, would allow for affected wineries to relocate tasting rooms.
It also extends a previous executive order that addressed emergency-time price gouging and temporarily halted fees associated with mobile and manufactured homes, the Associated Press reported.
Cooler weather brings "a lot of cautious optimism" on the ground
With more favorable weather conditions in the forecast, firefighters in Northern California hope to increase their control of a series of deadly wildfires that has killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of businesses and homes.
On Wednesday, the death toll rose to 42 after authorities discovered another body in Sonoma County, which was hit particularly hard. Twenty-three people have so far died in the county, all but one of them from the Tubbs fire.
The Tubbs fire, one of more than a dozen that exploded out of control Monday night, was 91% contained on Wednesday but only after scorching 36,432 acres and destroying large sections of the city of Santa Rosa, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
The next deadliest fire, the Atlas fire in Napa County that killed six people as of Wednesday, was 83% contained after burning 51,064 acres.
Firefighters were being aided by cooler temperatures and possible rain in the forecast on Thursday, although a warming trend was expected over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. Still, officials remained cautiously optimistic that significant progress could be made in the coming days.
“There’s a lot of cautious optimism in terms of final containment, but we’re still not there,” Sonoma County spokesman Barry Dugan told the Los Angeles Times. “We also understand that these fires can be volatile and weather can change.”
At one point reaching more than 20 separate blazes, the firestorm that ignited in tinder-dry conditions amid extraordinarily gusty winds on Oct. 9 became the deadliest week of wildfires in California's history.
More than 34,000 people remain affected by evacuation orders
More than 34,000 people remain affected by evacuation orders due to the deadly fires still burning across Northern California, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Tuesday.
Those residents that are being allowed to go back home are being urged to be careful of hazardous conditions when they return to their neighborhoods, many of which have been destroyed by the flames.
In the last 24 hours, officials said people have been allowed to return to nearly 14,000 homes in the county.
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said officials are maintaining a strong police force in the areas that are still off limits for residents, and cracking down on possible looters.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 17 people suspected of being in the area to loot, including someone driving a decommissioned fire truck, had been arrested by sheriff's deputies, Giordano said. Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder said 18 people had been arrested by his officers.
Improving weather conditions have allowed firefighters to build containment lines across multiple wildfires burning through Northern California, but officials said more than 11,000 firefighters are still trying to gain the upper hand on 12 large wildfires burning in the state.
More than 5,700 structures, including homes and businesses, have been destroyed.
The causes of the fires are still under investigation, Giordano said.
Two hospitals that evacuated during the deadly fires are beginning to take patients again
Two hospitals that removed more than 200 patients because of the deadly fires in Santa Rosa have begun to take in patients this week, officials announced.
Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, which had to hastily remove 80 patents on Oct. 9, reopened Tuesday for inpatient and emergency services, the hospital announced.
Hospital officials said opening was a difficult task since the facility needed thorough cleaning before reopening, and at least 60 employees of the hospital also lost their homes.
Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, which also removed 130 patients because of the fire, also began taking urgent walk-in and pharmacy patients Tuesday, the hospital announced. The emergency department would remain closed until further notice.
A volunteer firefighter died while transporting water in Napa County
A volunteer firefighter from Missouri died after his water tender rig rolled over early Monday while driving up a steep road in Napa County, authorities said, bringing the death toll from Northern California's wildfires to 41 people.
Garrett Paiz, a 38-year-old volunteer with the Noel Fire Department in Missouri, lost control of his rig and veered off the road near the Robert Mondavi winery around 6:50 a.m., Cal Fire spokesman David Shew said. His vehicle tumbled down an embankment, overturned, and landed on its roof.
The 38-year-old, who was working in Washington state before being contracted by CalFire driver, is the first worker to die fighting the ongoing wildfires.
"We're very sorry for the loss of the gentleman who was fighting the fire and doing the right thing," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told reporters Monday. "We still don’t know what happened and will investigate it."
Paiz was driving for Tehama Transport, a company based in Red Bluff, California.
"We would like to send our deepest condolences to his family," The company said in a statement on a GoFundMe account. "This is a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers are with Garrett's family at this time. We will continue working with the local authorities to bring peace and closure to his family. This is a very difficult time for all of us out there that fight fires when we lose one of our own. You will never be forgotten!"
California Highway Patrol is investigating his death and will look into whether fatigue was a factor. Authorities are still also still scouring rubble and ash for bodies a week after the massive wildfires began.
Dozens of people are still missing, Giordano said, noting that search and rescue missions are also delaying some residents from returning to particularly decimated neighborhoods.
"We have a targeted list of people we are looking for and we believe they are still in their homes," he said. "We still have ground to cover."
Better weather conditions contribute to progress on containing the fires
Calmer winds and better weather conditions have helped officials in Northern California increase containment of the deadliest cluster of wildfires in the state's history.
Officials said Monday that the Central LNU complex of fires — which include the Nuns, Tubbs, and Pocket fires — was 40% contained at nearly 98,000 acres, and that the Southern LNU complex — 51,000 acres that includes the Atlas fire — was 68% contained.
The possibility of rain later in the week could help crews increase those containment figures even more.
“Any sort of moisture is welcome at this point,” Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Associated Press. “In terms of fire, the weather outlook is looking to be improving.”
Meet the firefighters still battling the deadliest wildfire in California history
Imagine pulling a few back-to-back all-nighters while weightlifting in a sauna and simultaneously having to block your mind from processing everything. That's kind of what it's like to battle the massive, historical wildfires raging across Northern California.
Imagine pulling a few back-to-back all-nighters while weightlifting in a sauna and simultaneously having to block your mind from processing everything. That's kind of what it's like to battle the massive, historical wildfires raging across Northern California.
For the past week, fueled by caffeine, adrenaline, random naps wherever they can close their eyes, community support, and each other, the red-eyed, dusty, crews have been working anywhere from 24 to 72 hours without sleep or showers.
Read more about the firefighters here.
Residents in Sonoma and Napa counties begin to return home
Mandatory evacuation orders for Calistoga, California, were lifted at 2 p.m. Sunday, allowing residents in the small city in Napa County to finally return to their homes nearly a week after fires erupted across the region.
With winds dying down, firefighters were beginning to get a handle on the blazes that have ripped across parts of Northern California for the past week. Though the fires continue to threaten lives and homes in some areas, officials in several counties began lifting evacuation orders Sunday, allowing people to return to their neighborhoods to survey the damage.
"Residents are urged to be cautious as they return to their homes," the Napa County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release. Potential hazards include "hanging broken tree limbs" and downed power lines. Though the city was spared direct impact from the fires, officials also warned people to be mindful of ash fallout as they returned to the area.
The sheriff's office said Sunday that there would be a heavy police presence to make sure that reentry was "orderly" and "to ensure that only residents are returning." First responders and critical service providers would also be allowed to enter the city.
Earlier on Sunday, evacuation warnings were lifted for all of Butte, Nevada, and Yuba counties, located north of Sacramento. Evacuation shelters were also closed in Butte and Nevada counties.
Overall, the number of people under evacuation order fell to 75,000 Sunday, down from at least 100,000 a day earlier. Power has now been restored to more than 90% of homes and businesses in the fire zones, and is expected to be fully restored sometime Monday, according to officials with Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
—Michelle Broder Van Dyke and Grace Wyler
Touching stories of animal rescues during the California wildfires
As northern California communities begin to deal with the destruction caused by this week's wildfires, animal shelters and local volunteers are caring for animals
"We have 500 lost pet reports that we've collected ourselves and we've only seen 100 of the animals so we don't know what's out there," said the Humane Society's Wendy Welling, who has been living in the clinic with her family, dogs, and bunnies for the past week after being evacuated.
Another local, Noel Matthias, is caring for horses whose owners have lost their homes and barns.
"It's overwhelming when people don't have a pot to piss in and they have to worry about a barn. It's what we can do to help," she told BuzzFeed News.
Read more here.
— Brianna Sacks
Death toll in California wildfires climbs to 40
Another two deaths in Sonoma County are believed to be directly linked to the devastating fires still burning in Northern California, bringing the death toll of the fires to 40.
The two deaths were confirmed by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department.
Sonoma County has been hard hit by the deadly fires this week, accounting for most of the deaths attributed to more than 20 fires that have sit the state since Monday.
On Saturday, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said the department was still looking for 223 people who have been reported missing.
Eight deaths have been attributed to the fires in Mendocino County. Six deaths in Napa County and four in Yuba County have also been attributed to the fires.
At least 38 people have died in the California wildfires so far
At least 38 people are confirmed to have died as a result of the wildfires sweeping across parts of California, according to new numbers released by Cal Fire Saturday.
The blazes continued to ravage California's famous wine country Saturday, sending hundreds of people out of their homes and threatening to roll back gains that firefighters have made in recent days. Nearly a week after the fires erupted, the flames have damaged or destroyed nearly 6,000 buildings, including several thousand homes.
Officials estimated Saturday that about 100,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fires, 17 of which continued to burn in parts of Northern California Saturday.
The additional deaths were reported Saturday in Napa and Sonoma counties. Officials in Napa said that two more people have been confirmed dead there, bringing the local death toll to six. In Sonoma County, which has borne the brunt of the wildfire damage this week, a 20th body was found in the city of Santa Rosa.
Sonoma County officials said Saturday that they are still trying to resolve about 220 missing persons cases. An additional 74 missing persons cases are still open in Napa County, raising fears that the death toll could continue to rise.
At a press conference in Santa Rosa, California Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires “one of the greatest tragedies California has ever faced," and urged residents to continue to follow evacuation orders and other messages from elected officials.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Brown said. “There’s still fires burning. There’s still danger.”
California's US Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, who attended a town hall meeting with Brown in Santa Rosa Saturday, pledged to push for additional federal funding to help victims of the disaster.
Officials vow to reevaluate how they alerted residents who had just minutes to flee
SANTA ROSA, California — Officials in the fire ravaged Sonoma County in northern California say they will review how they chose to alert resident late Sunday night, before a deadly blaze overtook subdivisions, trailer parks, and tucked-away neighborhoods with barely any warning.
With only the time to grab wedding photos off the mantle, shoes, cats, and passports, dozens of residents in Sonoma County say they only barely escaped as frantic neighbors banged on their doors, smoke seeped into their homes, and they could see the red glare of flames a few blocks away. At least 19 people are known to have died in Sonoma County.
Those who did get alerts from social media or Nixle, a subscription alert-messaging system, say the warnings arrived after they had already evacuated. In smaller, neighboring counties with no death toll, officials deployed a blaring, alarm-clock type warning to people's cellphones,
"The fire was our notice," said Odessa Gunn, whose Mark West Springs neighborhood in the hills above Santa Rosa was one of the first to burn. "Within 30 minutes everything was on fire. We woke up and went out and the car was already on fire. One of the neighbors didn't make it."
Read more here. —Bri Sacks
Strong winds prompt fresh evacuation orders
Gusty winds overnight forced California officials to issue new mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of homes threatened by raging fires.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection warned residents in Sonoma Valley and parts of the Santa Rosa area to flee their homes due to the Nuns fire.
"Overnight wind conditions pushed the fire in two directions towards the Oakmont community in Santa Rosa and areas northeast in the city of Sonoma," officials warned. "Moderate fire behavior increased overnight dues to the winds on the South and Western Portions of the fire."
The Nuns fire has burned more than 46,000 acres and is only 10% contained. The nearby Pocket and Canyon fires in Sonoma and Napa counties have been contained at 5% and 44% respectively.
CalFire spokesman Jonathan Cox told the Associated Press a blaze had reached part of Sonoma, a town of 11,000, burning some structures.
As flames closed in, one family tried to escape
SANTA ROSA, California — As a series wildfires broke out across Northern California this week, Sara Shepherd called her mother in the middle of the night to tell her the family was getting ready to flee their Redwood Valley home.
Moments later, Sara and her husband, Jon, loaded up their two cars along with their daughter, son, and two dogs, and drove away.
But as the family was attempting to leave, flames overwhelmed their rural hillside property, accessible only by a winding driveway. They abandoned their cars and made a run for it.
Jon, badly burned, was found by firefighters near the bottom of the hill. Sara and 17-year-old Kressa, also suffering serious burns, were located up the hill hours later by a neighbor. When the neighbor went to get them water, he found the body of Kai, 14, about 30 feet away.
Read more here. —Brianna Sacks and Claudia Koerner
A Santa Rosa man lost everything except his cat, thanks to sheriff's deputies
Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies rescued a cat Thursday with burned paws and singed whiskers from underneath a car.
The sheriff's department released a video that showed a deputy coaxing the cat to safety.
"Law enforcement proudly serving their community in times of crisis has been amazing," the sheriff's department wrote along with the video.
Sheriff's office releases dramatic video of deputy's effort to evacuate burning neighborhoods
Sonoma County Sheriff's officials released on Friday dramatic body camera footage of one deputy's efforts to evacuate neighborhoods as they were consumed by flames.
In the video, burning embers can be seen streaming across the deputy's patrol car as he continues to try to warn more people of the fire.
"Sir, you gotta go!" the deputy can be heard yelling in the video.
At one point, the deputy appears to be surrounded by flames inside of his patrol car as he drives down the road.
"Fuck, I gotta get outta here," he is heard saying. "I'm in a bad spot."
In another portion of the five-minute edited video, the deputy is heard shouting at drivers to go through an intersection to leave the area.
"Go, go, go!"
The video is a glimpse into what authorities experienced this week as they attempted to evacuate neighborhoods that have gone up in flames, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters.
"The intensity was unbelievable," he said, adding that he spoke to the deputy shortly after the video was recorded, and saw his blood-shot red eyes from the heavy smoke. "The look on his face, I don't want to be there."
Sonoma has been one of the hardest hit counties in this week's wildfires across California.
As of Friday evening, Giordano said, 19 deaths have been confirmed in Sonoma County, bringing the total death toll to 36.
In Mendocino County, 9 deaths have been confirmed. In Yuba County, 4 deaths have been linked to the fires and, in Napa County, two people's deaths were attributed to the fires.
About 5,700 structures, including homes and businesses, have been destroyed by California fires
About 5,700 structures, including homes and businesses, have been destroyed by the wildfires burning across California this week, fire officials said.
The latest estimate released by California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection significantly increases the estimate of structures destroyed by the deadly fires, which previously stood at 3,500.
Fire officials and local authorities are still working to assess the damage caused by more than 20 brush fires that were sparked this week.
According to the agencies latest estimate, more than 221,000 acres have been burned, forcing more than 25,000 people to flee their homes due to mandatory evacuation orders.
Top fire chief warns California will experience more catastrophic wildfires in the future
While firefighters continue to battle more than 20 wildfires across the state, California's top fire chief said the devastation in wine country is the new reality fire officials will have to prepare for.
"These are the conditions that we've been talking about for several years now and experiencing for several years," Ken Pimlott, director of California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told reporters Friday. "These are the kinds of fires California is experiencing now and is going to experience in the future."
The comments painted a stark reality for California, where wildfires have killed more than 30 people, destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses, and scorched more than 340 square miles — an area larger than New York City.
"The enormity of this disaster, we're only beginning to understand," Pimlott said. "Once we are done putting saving lives, once we are done putting these fires out and caring for people, we're going to evaluate how these fires spread."
Most of the state's largest fires are burning in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, where authorities are still struggling to build containment lines.
The Nuns fire in Sonoma County was about 5% contained after burning roughly 44,481 acres, according to Cal Fire officials. The Tubbs and Atlas fires, burning in Napa County, were about a quarter contained.
Sheriff Robert Giordano said the death toll in Sonoma County had increased to 18 on Friday, and police found three more bodies in Mendocino and Napa, bringing the overall toll in the Northern California fires to 35.
Giordano said deputies were still working through more than 1,300 missing persons reports in the county, 256 of which remain outstanding.
Officials said they are starting to try to assess the damage and get the necessary aid to those impacted by the fires.
FEMA officials recommended those seeking aid register online at disasterassistance.gov. While federal officials have increased the number of workers at call centers, the agency is "spread thin" by other disasters that have occurred in recent weeks.
Californians deal with loss after massive wildfires: "It's like he's really gone now"
SANTA ROSA, California — At 1:57 a.m., Bryan Heric awoke to explosions and a roaring wind so intense it sounded like it was juggling the large metal dumpsters outside his apartment and throwing them into the concrete. Then he opened his front door.
"I've never seen fire like that. There was no space in it, it was like a solid object," the 28-year-old recalled as he stood knee deep in the ashy remnants of his kitchen. "It pushed through the metal fence and ignited the trees and I just grabbed my daughter and said 'We have to go.'"
His girlfriend, Amy Larkin, grabbed their identities: passports, wedding photos, and a stuffed animal she had from birth and started sprinting to bang on neighbors' doors, bellowing that they needed to leave, before jumping into her car with Heric and his six-year-old daughter, Emma.
"It just jumped the freeway and moved so fast it was unreal," said Larkin, a 28-year-old dispatcher for the Santa Rosa Junior College Police Department. "I'm still not sure if some of my neighbors made it out. There's a few still missing."
As of Thursday, 31 people, nearly half in the Santa Rosa area, had died since the group of more than 20 wildfires started tearing across Northern California's still-parched farmland, wineries, and cities overnight Sunday. Fueled by strong, gusty winds, the wall of fire jumped freeways and incinerated buildings with indiscriminate fury, from fast food restaurants, to historical landmarks and homes in Sonoma Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and other counties.
Read more here.
Death toll rises as authorities begin to identify victims
The death toll in Northern California rose to 31 on Thursday after two additional people were found dead in Sonoma County, making it what one official said was the deadliest week of wildfires in the state's history.
With hundreds of people still reported missing, the total number of fatalities as of Thursday is now 17 in Sonoma County, 4 in Yuba County, 8 in Mendocino County, and 2 in Napa County.
While no one of the more than 20 wildfires burning in the region is responsible for the total, state fire Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said that, collectively, they are the deadliest in state recorded history.
The Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933 was the deadliest single wildfire, killing 29.
As of Thursday, 10 of the victims in Sonoma County had been identified — a process that required examining serial numbers in medical devices, tattoos, fingerprints, and dental records, as well as assistance from family members.
Many of the victims were elderly and found in their homes, he said. One person was found near their vehicle.
They were identified as: • Carol Collins-Swasey, 76, from Santa Rosa • Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, from Santa Rosa • Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, from Santa Rosa • Suiko Grant, 75, from Santa Rosa • Donna Mae Halbur, 80, from Larkfield • Leroy Peter Halbur, 80, from Larkfield • Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, from Santa Rosa • Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, from Apple Valley, CA • Michael John Dornbach, 57, from Calistoga, CA • Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67, from Santa Rosa
The San Francisco Bay Area is covered in smoke. Is it safe to breathe?
Thursday morning in San Francisco, the air quality was as bad as in Beijing, China’s notoriously polluted capital. Since Bay Area residents woke on Monday to news that California’s wine country was ablaze, much of the region has been shrouded in smoke. Schools are keeping kids inside during recess. Some adults are wearing face masks as they walk or cycle to work.
The problems with air quality in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose bear little comparison to the scenes of utter devastation in Sonoma and Napa counties to the north. But the pall of smoke that hangs over the region’s cities affects millions of people.
The main danger from wildfire smoke is known as PM2.5 — particles of soot less than 2.5 micrometers across that can cause lung and heart disease. PM2.5 is bad for everyone, but particularly for people who already have conditions like asthma or emphysema, and for children whose lungs are still developing.
Read more here.
Death toll continues to rise in Northern California
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said the death toll continues to rise as crews battle stubborn wildfires in the region.
Twenty-nine people had been confirmed dead as of Wednesday afternoon: 15 in Sonoma, 4 in Yuba, 8 in Mendocino, and 2 in Napa. None of the 21 fires were more than 10% contained.
"We're moving into a recovery phase...Though identification will be hard," he said. "We've found bodies that are completely intact and some that are just ash and bone." Some of the damage to the bodies was so extensive that first responders resorted to using ID numbers on internal medical implants to identify the dead.
Hundreds of people are still reported missing.
Giordano said he still did not know what sparked the fires and would not speculate.
Meanwhile, 8,000 firefighters were actively fighting the fires, with some coming in from as far away as Australia
13 deaths confirmed in Sonoma County, raising death toll in Northern California fires to 23
Another two deaths connected to the deadly wildfires burning through Sonoma County were confirmed by the sheriff's department Wednesday night, raising the wildfire-related death toll in Northern California to 23.
Most of the deaths have occurred in Sonoma County, where hundreds of people have also been reported missing, Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters.
On Wednesday night, officials said 13 deaths have been linked to the Tubbs Fire, which has burned nearly 28,000 acres.
In Mendocino County, six deaths have been reported in connection to the fires. Two people have been killed in Yuba County and, in Napa County, two deaths have been confirmed.
Nearly 300 people still missing as authorities struggle with Northern California fires
Authorities in Sonoma County, California, are still trying to find 285 people that have been reported missing since several devastating fires were sparked early this week.
At least 21 people have been killed in the devastating fires, and authorities fear the death toll could continue to climb, especially in Sonoma County. The county received 600 missing persons reports, but so far, only 315 have been located safely, Sonoma Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters.
More than 10 brush fires are continuing to burn in Napa Valley region alone, including five that have scorched about 20,000 acres in Sonoma County.
In neighboring Napa County, three large brushfires have burned almost 80,000 acres, according to the latest numbers provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
More than 25,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes overall, including the entire town of Calistoga, with a population of about 5,300 residents.
The largest fire burning as of Wednesday afternoon, the Atlas Fire in Napa County, has burned more than 42,000 acres and was just 3% contained.
Twenty-two fast-moving wildfires tore through the wine country region of Northern California this week, killing at least 21 people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
Across the state, more than 20,000 people were forced to evacuate after nearly two dozen fires ignited over two days, officials said. In Northern California, at least 100 people were injured by the fires, according to hospital officials in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Officials were searching for 670 people reported missing, according to the Sonoma County sheriff.
Firefighters have struggled to bring the blazes under control.
The wind-driven fires moved quickly through much of California's wine country in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving local authorities scrambling to warn residents to evacuate.
"There were areas where there just wasn't enough time to give an evacuation notice because the spread of the fire was so rapid," Mendocino County Sheriff's Capt. Gregory Van Patten told the San Francisco Chronicle. "A lot of the area was overcome before we got ourselves injected in the situation."
Thousands of residents, as well as tourists visiting the region's famed vineyards, were forced to leave in the middle of the night.
"It was a hell-storm of smoke and ash. There were 30- to 40-mph winds," Chris Thomas, 43, told the Chronicle. "I couldn't even breathe, so I ran back to the unit to get Marissa (his wife). It was so smokey I went to the wrong unit. When I found her I said, 'Forget it, let's just go.' It went from being an annoying evacuation to something really scary."
At least 3,500 homes and businesses had been destroyed by flames as of Wednesday morning, according to the Associated Press.
Cal Fire chief Ken Pimlott said in a press conference Wednesday that authorities were worried that the fires would merge into one, making them exponentially more difficult for firefighters to contain.
Pimlott said some 170,000 acres had been burned over the course of two days. Some individual fires were thousands of acres unto themselves, according to Pimlott, with the Tubbs Fire at 25,000 acres and the Atlas fire at 42,000. Firefights had contained just 3% of the Atlas Fire, the fire chief said, and 2% of "most of the others" in the Napa and Sonoma area.
Four thousand personnel had responded to the fire, including rescue, emergency, medical, and public health workers, non-governmental support, volunteers and the National Guard, according to Pimlott.
"We're not out of the woods, and we won't be for several days," he said. "We're back to red flag conditions—we've got a critically dry fuel bed. It's explosive vegetation."
Pimlott said winds had returned to 40 miles per hour in some locations, fanning the flames, and that humidity was at 8%. Fires burned during night, when they usually would subside, as well as during the day.
"These will be very unpredictable fires for the next few days...All of the fires are under investigation. Trying to speculate on a cause is premature," he said.
The California National Guard had deployed soldiers to aid firefighters, Pimlott added.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said the fires had downed 77 cell towers but that 64 of them had been restored.
Ghilarducci also said Cal OES had distributed 40,000 meals, 60,000 liters of water, and 100,000 masks to evacuees.
At least 11 people died in Sonoma County.
Six people also died in Mendocino County and two in Yuba County, according to Cal Fire officials. Two others died in Napa County.
California governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday called the blazes "one of the most serious fires we've ever faced."
"That's the way it is with a warming climate," he said.
Two hospitals and senior-living facilities were also forced to evacuate.
Photos and videos posted online showed homes and businesses in flames as entire communities were burned to the ground.
Gov. Brown declared states of emergency for eight counties: Sonoma, Napa, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange. President Trump also declared a major disaster in the state, allowing for federal funds to be used for aid.
In Southern California, more than 5,000 homes were evacuated Monday after a separate wind-driven brush fire quickly spread to more than 6,000 acres, destroying 24 structures — including several houses — by nightfall.
Pimlott, the Cal Fire director, said Wednesday that the so-called Canyon 2 fire was "essentially stopped."
The fire had burned over 8,000 acres but had been 45% contained, according to Pimlott. "We've released some of the fire engines from there to help up North."
Dubbed the Canyon Fire 2, the rapidly-moving blaze broke out at around 9:45 a.m. Monday, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz said. Bolstered by up to 40 mph winds, the fire quickly tore across parts of the county, and was 25% contained the following day, according to the Anaheim Fire Department.
Video footage showed flames encroaching on suburban neighborhoods, burning some homes as firefighters tried to contain the blaze. At least one firefighter was injured, according to the Anaheim Fire Department.
The fire spread so quickly, some residents were seen hauling their possessions away on foot.
Strong winds with gusts of up to 50 mph also sent heavy smoke and ash into the San Francisco Bay area.
Meanwhile, photos from a resident who fled her home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa showed the extent of the damage.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Southern California for a Republican fundraiser Monday, told reporters the federal government was ready to "provide any and all assistance" to the state.
NASA said the cause of the fire was likely a combination of drought and high winds.
“After more than a decade of drought, the fuel levels—dry brush and grasses—across California are exceptionally high," William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a blog post on the space agency's website. "Last winter’s welcome rains created more vegetation that, over the past six months, created more fuel.”
Fall in California typically brings "hot, dry, and gusty winds," he added, creating a tinderbox.
“The fires erupted in areas where wildlands meet urban and suburban development," he continued. "Californians have built in what are historical fire corridors, and these high-density developments are particularly vulnerable to fast-moving, destructive fires.”