At least 24 dead and hun­dreds miss­ing in US fires

The Irish Times - - World News -

Fire­fight­ers be­gan to gain ground yes­ter­day against the spread of wild­fires that have killed at least 24 peo­ple in north­ern California and left hun­dreds miss­ing in the pan­de­mo­nium of mass evac­u­a­tions in the heart of the state’s wine coun­try.

A brief resur­gence of dry, gusty winds threat­ened to push flames into the Napa Val­ley town of Cal­is­toga, whose 5,000-plus res­i­dents were or­dered from their homes on Wed­nes­day night as con­di­tions wors­ened and fire crept closer.

Cal­is­toga mayor Chris Can­ning said any­one re­fus­ing to heed the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion would be left to fend for them­selves if fire ap­proached, warn­ing: “You are on your own.”

Still, ex­treme wind con­di­tions that had been fore­cast for Wed­nes­day night and early yes­ter­day failed to ma­te­ri­alise, giv­ing crews a chance to be­gin carv­ing con­tain­ment lines around the perime­ter. “Over­all, we are def­i­nitely mak­ing progress,” said Daniel Ber­lant, as­sis­tant deputy di­rec­tor of the California Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion (Cal Fire), adding that the sit­u­a­tion was less dire than ear­lier in the week.

Nearly two dozen blazes span­ning eight coun­ties have

raged largely unchecked since ig­nit­ing on Sun­day night, scorch­ing more than 190,000 acres (77,000 hectares) – an area nearly the size of New York City – and de­stroy­ing at least 3,500 homes and other build­ings. En­tire neigh­bor­hoods have been re­duced to panora­mas of ash, smoul­der­ing ru­ins, charred trees and burned-out cars by a se­ries of firestorms that rank among the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in California’s his­tory.

The of­fi­cial cause of the disas­ter was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but power lines knocked down by gale-force winds may have sparked the con­fla­gra­tion.

Twenty-four peo­ple, all civil­ians, have been con­firmed dead, the greatest loss of life from a California wild­fire event since 1991, and au­thor­i­ties said the death toll could climb.

Fire of­fi­cials have said some of the vic­tims were asleep when the fast-mov­ing fires en­gulfed their homes be­fore they could es­cape. “We have found bod­ies that were no more than ash and bone,” Sonoma county sher­iff Rob Gior­dano told re­porters.

– Reuters


Fire dam­age in the Cof­fey Park neigh­bour­hood of Santa Rosa, California.

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