Worst wild­fires in nearly a cen­tury scorch Cal­i­for­nia

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - THOMAS FULLER DENISE GRADY RICHARD PEREZ-PENA SONOMA, CALIF.

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.

JAE C. HONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fire­fight­ers put out a hot spot from a wild­fire near Cal­is­toga, Calif., on Thurs­day.

JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Char­lie and Kate Hig­gins hug each other in front of their burned home in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Thurs­day.

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