Fri, Oct 13, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Blaze could be worst in California history

NO END IN SIGHT:While fires raging in Sonoma County appeared uncontainable, the fires in southern Orange County were ‘60 percent contained,’ local fire officials said

AP, SONOMA, California

Ben Pederson finds a school yearbook in the remains of his bedroom after his family home was destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Wildfires already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in Californian history were feared to be gaining momentum yesterday, erasing even the modest gains firefighters have made.

Steady winds with gusts up to 72kph and nearly non-existent humidity were expected to descend on the areas north of San Francisco where at least 23 people have died and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

“It’s going to continue to get worse before it gets better,” Cal FIRE Director Ken Pimlott said on Wednesday.

Entire cities had evacuated in anticipation of the next wave, their streets empty, the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.

They included Calistoga, the historic resort town of wine-tastings and hot springs, 5,300 inhabitants of which were all under evacuation orders.

Tens of thousands more were also driven from their homes by the flames. A few left behind cookies for firefighters and signs that read, “Please save our home!”

The 22 fires spanned more than 686km2 as they entered their fourth day, many of them completely out of control.

Modern, strategic attacks that have kept destruction and death tolls low in recent years have not worked against the fires’ ferocity.

“We are literally looking at explosive vegetation,” Pimlott said, later adding: “Make no mistake, this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event.”

The community of Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County was also told to clear out on Wednesday and the streets were quickly lined with cars packed with people fleeing.

“That’s very bad,” resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires toward the town of Sonoma proper, where 11,000 people live.

“It’ll go up like a candle,” he said.

The ash rained down on the Sonoma Valley, covering windshields, as winds began picking up toward the potentially disastrous forecast speed of 48kph.

Countless emergency vehicles sped toward the flames, sirens blaring, as evacuees sped away.

Residents stuffed canvas bags into cars jammed with possessions or filled their gas tanks.

Cal FIRE spokesman Daniel Berlant said that 22 wildfires were burning on Wednesday, up from 17 the day before.

As the fires grew, officials voiced concern that separate blazes would merge into even larger infernos.

“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it’s not over,” California Governor Jerry Brown said at a news conference on Wednesday, alongside the state’s top emergency officials.

They said that 8,000 firefighters and other personnel were battling the blazes and more resources were pouring in from Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the scenic coastal area of Mendocino farther north, leveling whole neighborhoods and leaving only brick chimneys and charred appliances to mark where homes once stood.

In Boyes Hot Springs, residents had watched the ridges over the west side of town for days to gauge how close the billowing smoke and orange flames of the wildfires had come. On Wednesday, the ridges were obscured by the growing clouds of smoke.

With fires advancing from several sides in Sonoma Valley, law enforcement officers on loan from other areas of northern California barred residents of evacuated communities from returning to see how the homes and businesses had fared.

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