Cal­i­for­nia burn­ing

At least 11 peo­ple dead, 100 hurt as wild­fires tear through towns, sub­di­vi­sions

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - WORLD NEWS - JEFF CHIU and ELLEN KNICK­MEYER

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Hun­dreds more fire­fight­ers and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials headed Tues­day to parts of Northern Cal­i­for­nia to bat­tle wild­fires that have killed at least 11 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a 100-year-old man and his 98-year-old wife who were un­able to es­cape their burn­ing home.

Author­i­ties hoped cooler weather and lighter winds would help crews get a han­dle on the fires, which are among the dead­li­est in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory and were still burn­ing com­pletely un­con­tained.

“The weather has been work­ing in our favour, but it doesn’t mean it will stay that way,” said Brad Alexan­der, a spokesman of the gover­nor’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices.

The ex­tra fire­fight­ers came from through­out Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada. The ex­tra law en­force­ment of­fi­cers will help with evac­u­a­tions and guard against loot­ing, Alexan­der said.

At least 100 peo­ple have been in­jured, and as many as 1,500 homes and busi­nesses de­stroyed, ac­cord­ing to author­i­ties, who warned that all those fig­ures were ex­pected to climb in the com­ing days as more in­for­ma­tion is re­ported.

Among the dead were Charles and Sara Rippey, who were mar­ried for 75 years and lived at the Sil­ver­ado Re­sort in Napa.

“The only thing worse would have been if one sur­vived with­out the other,” their daugh­ter, Ruby Gib­ney told Oak­land TV sta­tion KTVU.

More than 640 km away, flames im­per­illed parts of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, too. Thou­sands of peo­ple were dis­placed by a wild­fire that de­stroyed or dam­aged 24 struc­tures, in­clud­ing homes. Hot, dry Santa Ana winds swept fire along brushy out- skirts of Or­ange County sub­urbs and eques­trian prop­er­ties south­east of Los Angeles. More than a dozen schools were closed.

The blaze spread over nearly a dozen square kilo­me­tres in less than 24 hours as a squadron of he­li­copters and air­planes bom­barded it with wa­ter and re­tar­dant, and an army of fire­fight­ers grew to 1,100 by Tues­day morn­ing.

At the other end of the state, res­i­dents who gath­ered at emer­gency shel­ters and gro­cery stores said they were shocked by the speed and fe­roc­ity of the flames. They re­called all the pos­ses­sions that were lost.

“All that good stuff, I’m never go­ing to see it again,” said Jeff Okrep­kie, who fled his neigh­bour­hood in Santa Rosa know­ing it was prob­a­bly the last time he would see his home of the past five years stand­ing. His fears were con­firmed Monday, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: A smoul­der­ing heap of metal and de­bris.

Some of the largest of the 14 blazes burn­ing over a 320-km 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 96 km away. Sonoma County said it has re­ceived more than 100 miss­ing­per­son re­ports as fam­ily and friends sought to lo­cate loved ones. It’s pos­si­ble that many or most of the miss­ing are safe but sim­ply can­not be reached be­cause of the wide­spread loss of cell­phone 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.

Hun­dreds of homes of all sizes were lev­elled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned alu­minum wheels into liq­uid.

Fire­fight­ers rushed to a state home for the se­verely dis­abled when flames reached one side of the cen­tre’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 me­tres.

BEN MAR­GOT/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man inspects a neigh­bour’s home in the Cof­fey Park area of Santa Rosa, Calif., on Tues­day. An on­slaught of wild­fires across a wide swath of Northern Cal­i­for­nia is tear­ing through both tiny ru­ral towns and ur­ban sub­di­vi­sions.

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