Worst wildfires in nearly a century scorch California
More than two dozen people have been killed, hundreds are missing and thousands of homes and businesses destroyed in the state’s wine country
Heavy smoke from wildfires has prompted health concerns in Northern California communities
The worst wildfires to tear through California in nearly a century have killed 29 people and torched a vast area of the state’s north, but the reach of the blazes is spreading dramatically further by the day, as thick plumes of smoke blow through population centres across the Bay Area.
Everything now smells burnt. Hills and buildings are covered in a haze. Residents nowhere near the front lines of the fires now venture out wearing air masks. On a hillside above the Russian River, a broad and menacing band of fire is turning a blue sky into a grey miasma of soot.
Air-quality, based on levels of tiny particles that can flow deep into the lungs, is rated “unhealthy” across much of Northern California, and smoke has travelled as far as Fresno, more than 300 kilometres to the south. The effects are many: Schoolchildren are being kept inside during recess, the Oakland Raiders cancelled their outdoor practice on Thursday to keep players from breathing in the bad air and doctors are reporting an increase in visits and calls from people with lung and heart trouble.
It is the 29 deaths, however, that has horrified Californians. “We have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” said Robert Giordano, the Sonoma County sheriff.
Because the fires have sent so many residents scrambling for safety, separating them from relatives, authorities have received reports of 900 missing people and have deployed 30 detectives to track them down. Officials said they had confirmed the locations and safety of 437 people and were still looking for the other 463.
Statewide, there were 21 major fires still burning on Thursday, which had consumed more than 191,000 acres since the outbreak began Sunday night, said Ken Pimlott, the chief of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency.
Firefighters put out a hot spot from a wildfire near Calistoga, Calif., on Thursday.
Charlie and Kate Higgins hug each other in front of their burned home in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Thursday.