Deadly California wildfires force thousands to evacuate

Smoke from a wildfire in Anaheim is creating dramatic hazy skies over Disneyland. (Oct. 10)

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — An onslaught of wildfires across a wide swath of Northern California broke out almost simultaneously then grew exponentially, swallowing up properties from wineries to trailer parks and tearing through both tiny rural towns and urban subdivisions.

Map of fires burning in California
Photos: Napa area fires, Cascade Fire
More information about air quality
List of road and school closures

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in several counties, including Butte, Yuba, Nevada, Calaveras, Lake, Sonoma, Solano and Mendocino counties.

At least 11 were dead, at least 100 injured and at least 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, authorities said. All three figures were expected to surge in the coming days as more information is reported.

Taken as a group, the fires are already among the deadliest in California history.

Some of the largest of the 14 blazes burning over a 200-mile region were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. They sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) away.

Sonoma County said it has received more than 100 missing-person reports as family and friends scramble to locate loved ones.

The reports have come via calls to a hotline the county set up for the missing, according to Scott Alonso, communications director for Sonoma County.

It's possible that many or most of the missing are safe but simply can't be reached because of the widespread loss of cell service and other communications.

Much of the damage was in Santa Rosa, a far larger and more developed city than usually finds itself at the mercy of a wildfire. The city is home to 175,000 residents, including both the wine-country wealthy and the working class.

The flames were unforgiving to both groups. Hundreds of homes of all sizes were leveled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned aluminum wheels into liquid.

The ferocity of the flames forced authorities to focus primarily on getting people out safely, even if it meant abandoning structures to the fire. Firefighters rushed to a state home for the severely disabled when flames reached one side of the center's sprawling campus in the historic Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen.

Crews got the more than 200 people from the threatened buildings, one firefighter said, as flames closed within a few dozen feet.

Fires from ruptured gas lines dotted the smoky landscapes of blackened Santa Rosa hillsides. Fire trucks raced by smoldering roadside landscaping in search of higher priorities.

The flames were fickle in some corners of the city. One hillside home remained unscathed while a dozen surrounding it were destroyed.

The large majority of the injured were treated for smoke inhalation, according to St. Joseph Health, which operates hospitals in the Santa Rosa area. Two were in critical condition and one was in serious condition. The number of injured is expected to climb as information comes in for all the other areas affected by the firestorm consuming the state.

October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires. What was unusual Sunday, however, was to have so many fires take off at the same time. Other than the windy conditions that helped drive them all, there was no known connection between the fires, and no cause has been released for any of them.

But the conditions late Monday and early Tuesday were calmer than they were 24 hours earlier, bringing hopes of progress against the flames.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the fire areas, and asked the federal government to do the same. Vice President Mike Pence, who is visiting California, said at an event near Sacramento that the federal government stands with California as it takes on the blazes, but he made no specific promises.

To the south in Orange County, more than 5,000 homes were evacuated because of a fire in the Anaheim area. The blaze had grown to nearly 10 square miles and had destroyed 24 structures.

Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke in the area, prompting officials to ask that the public "only use 911 if they see actual unattended flames, or are having another emergency."

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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