Charred ru­ins and sooty skies as Cal­i­for­nia fires kill 31

Winds of 100 kph and hu­mid­ity of 10 per­cent will cre­ate crit­i­cal weather con­di­tion

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

Fire­fight­ers faced drier, windy con­di­tions Fri­day that could whip up wild­fires in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia that have killed at least 31 peo­ple and left hun­dreds miss­ing in the heart of wine coun­try.

The lat­est ca­su­alty fig­ures marked the great­est loss of life from a sin­gle Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire event in 84 years. The most lethal wild­fires have killed peo­ple while they slept in their beds and prompted au­thor­i­ties to or­der res­i­dents from their homes.

The toll from the more than 20 fires rag­ing across eight coun­ties could climb, with more than 400 peo­ple in Sonoma County alone still listed as miss­ing.

Winds of up to 100 kilo­me­ters per hour and hu­mid­ity of just 10 per­cent will cre­ate “crit­i­cal fire weather con­di­tions” and “con­trib­ute to ex­treme fire be­hav­ior” Fri­day af­ter­noon and into Satur­day, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said.

A force of 8,000 fire­fight­ers was work­ing to re­in­force and ex­tend buf­fer lines across the re­gion where the flames have scorched more than 77,000 hectares, an area nearly the size of New York City.

With 3,500 homes and busi­nesses in­cin­er­ated, the so-called North Bay fires have re­duced en­tire neigh­bor­hoods in the city of Santa Rosa to smol­der­ing ru­ins dot­ted with charred trees and burned-out cars.

The cause was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but of­fi­cials said power lines top­pled by gale-force winds Sun­day may be to blame.

The Napa Val­ley town of Cal­is­toga faced one of the big­gest threats, and its 5,000-plus res­i­dents were or­dered to leave their homes as winds picked up 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 Thurs­day: “You are on your own.”

Sonoma County ac­counted for 17 of the North Bay fa­tal­i­ties, all from the Tubbs fire, which now ranks as Cal­i­for­nia’s dead­li­est sin­gle wild­fire since 2003.

Some peo­ple killed were asleep when flames en­gulfed their homes, fire of­fi­cials said. Oth­ers had only min­utes to es­cape as winds fanned fast-mov­ing blazes.

Mark Ghi­lar­ducci, state di­rec­tor of emer­gency ser­vices, said the loss of cell tow­ers likely con­trib­uted to dif­fi­cul­ties in warn­ing res­i­dents.

As many as 900 miss­ing-per­son re­ports have been filed in Sonoma County and 437 peo­ple have since turned up safe. It re­mains un­clear how many of the 463 still un­ac­counted for are fire vic­tims rather than evac­uees who failed to alert au­thor­i­ties, Ghi­lar­ducci said.

Pope Fran­cis is­sued a state­ment ex­press­ing his “heart­felt sol­i­dar­ity” with all those af­fected.

“He is ... mind­ful of those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still miss­ing,” the state­ment said.

The fires struck the heart of Cal­i­for­nia’s world-renowned wine-pro­duc­ing re­gion, wreak­ing havoc on its tourist in­dus­try and dam­ag­ing or de­stroy­ing 13 Napa Val­ley winer­ies.

The state’s newly le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in­dus­try was also hit hard, with at least 20 pot farms in Sonoma, Men­do­cino and Napa coun­ties rav­aged, a grow­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion said.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple are still miss­ing in mas­sive wild­fires that have swept through Cal­i­for­nia killing tens and dam­ag­ing thou­sands of homes, busi­nesses and other build­ings.

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