California Wildfires Spreading
Wildfires in the U.S. state of California’s famed wine country are spreading after a week of the worst blazes the state has ever seen.
The death toll rose to at least 40 on Saturday, with at least 16 fires burning. One side of the fire zone stretched for 160 square kilometers, destroying some 5,700 homes and businesses. Some 100,000 people have evacuated their homes. But some have stayed behind.
“It was wind driven. Wind driven is basically powerful winds started pushing and intensifies the fire,” said Captain Jimmy Bernal of the Rancho Fire District.
The flames have crept into the town of Sonoma, a name synonymous with the California wine industry, forcing 400 households in the city of 11,000 to evacuate.
“And the biggest thing is we have lost way too many people on this fire. The intensity of the fire was incredible. I think we are at 36 people lost and there are some multiple unaccounted for. The potential for more fatalities is huge, which is very, very sad,” Bernal said.
The nearby town of Santa Rosa also saw mass evacuations. Santa Rosa was put under mandatory evacuation as wildfires continued to burn across a wide area north of the San Francisco Bay.
Fire officials ordered residents of the communities of Skyhawk, Mountain Hawk as well as parts of Rincon Valley to evacuate their homes.
The strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow down from the mountains every late summer and early fall are creating conditions that make the fires spread easily. Some gust to 64 kilometers per hour, pushing the flames over fire breaks dug by firefighters.
More than 9,000 people — many of them exhausted — are fighting the California wildfires, both local fire personnel and thousands of volunteers, who have poured into the area over the last few days.
The firefighters have come from other parts of California, and as far away as Australia.