New fire near Dis­ney­land

Blazes on way to be­com­ing worst in his­tory of the state

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

SONOMA, Cal­i­for­nia — Fueled by the re­turn of strong winds, the wild­fires tear­ing through Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try ex­ploded in size and num­ber on Wed­nes­day as au­thor­i­ties or­dered new evac­u­a­tions and the death toll climbed to 23, a fig­ure that is ex­pected to rise.

Three days af­ter the fires be­gan, firefighters were still un­able to gain con­trol of the blazes that had turned en­tire North­ern Cal­i­for­nia neigh­bor­hoods to ash and de­stroyed at least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has de­clared a ma­jor dis­as­ter in the state, free­ing up fed­eral fund­ing and re­sources to help fight the fires. Gover­nor Jerry Brown de­clared a state of emer­gency in eight coun­ties.

“We are lit­er­ally look­ing at ex­plo­sive veg­e­ta­tion,” said Ken Pim­lott, chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion. “It is very dy­namic. These fires are chang­ing by the minute in many ar­eas.”

The en­tire his­toric town of Cal­is­toga, pop­u­la­tion 5,000, was evac­u­ated. In neigh­bor­ing Sonoma County, au­thor­i­ties is­sued an evac­u­a­tion ad­vi­sory for part of the town of Sonoma and the com­mu­nity of Boyes Hot Springs. By that time, the streets were 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.”

Ash rained down on the Sonoma Val­ley, cov­er­ing wind­shields, as winds be­gan pick­ing up to­ward the po­ten­tially dis­as­trous fore­cast speed of 48 kilo­me­ters per hour. Cars of evac­uees raced away from the flames while count­less emer­gency ve­hi­cles sped to­ward them, sirens blar­ing. Res­i­dents man­han­dled can­vas bags into cars jammed with pos­ses­sions or filled their gas tanks.

The wild­fires are on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in state his­tory. And of­fi­cials warned the worst was far from over.

“Make no mis­take, this is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event,” Pim­lott said.

The fires have burned through 686 square kilo­me­ters of ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas. High winds and low hu­mid­ity made con­di­tions ideal for fire to ig­nite vir­tu­ally any­where on ground or brush.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Ber­lant said 22 wild­fires were burn­ing on Wed­nes­day, up from 17 the day be­fore. As the fires grow, of­fi­cials voiced con­cern that sep­a­rate fires would merge into larger in­fer­nos.

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

They said 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, leav­ing smol­der­ing ashes and eye-sting­ing smoke in their wake. Whole neigh­bor­hoods were lev­eled, leav­ing only brick chim­neys and charred ap­pli­ances to mark sites that were once fam­ily homes.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, cooler weather and moist ocean air helped firefighters gain ground against a wild­fire that has scorched nearly 36 sq km.

Orange County fire of­fi­cials said the blaze was 60 per­cent con­tained and full con­tain­ment was ex­pected by Sun­day, al­though another round of gusty winds and low hu­mid­ity could ar­rive on Thursday.

STEPHEN LAM / REUTERS

An aerial view of a neigh­bor­hood that was de­stroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia, on Wed­nes­day.

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