‘Cat­a­strophic’ wild­fires con­tinue to spread

Waikato Times - - World -

UNITED STATES: Fu­elled by the re­turn of strong winds, the wild­fires burn­ing through Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try ex­ploded in size and num­ber yes­ter­day as au­thor­i­ties is­sued new evac­u­a­tion or­ders and the death toll climbed to at least 23 – a fig­ure that was ex­pected to rise higher still.

Three days after the fires be­gan, firefighters were still un­able to gain con­trol of the blazes that have turned en­tire North­ern Cal­i­for­nia neigh­bour­hoods to ash and de­stroyed at least 3500 homes and busi­nesses.

‘‘We are lit­er­ally look­ing at ex­plo­sive veg­e­ta­tion,’’ said Ken Pim­lott, chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion. ‘‘These fires are chang­ing by the minute in many ar­eas.’’

The en­tire his­toric town of Cal­is­toga, pop­u­la­tion 5000, was evac­u­ated. In neigh­bour­ing Sonoma County, au­thor­i­ties is­sued an evac­u­a­tion ad­vi­sory for the north­ern part of the town of Sonoma and the com­mu­nity of Boyes Hot Springs. By the time the ad­vi­sory was is­sued, lines of cars were al­ready flee­ing.

‘‘It’ll go up like a can­dle,’’ res­i­dent Nick Hin­man said when a deputy sher­iff warned him that the winds could shift the fires to­wards the town of Sonoma proper, with 11,000 res­i­dents.

Ash rained down over the Sonoma Val­ley, cov­er­ing wind­shields, as winds be­gin pick­ing up to­ward the po­ten­tially dis­as­trous fore­cast speed of 50kmh.

The wild­fires rank as the third­dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in state his­tory, and of­fi­cials have warned that the worst is far from over. ‘‘Make no mis­take, this is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event,’’ Pim­lott said.

The fires have burned through a stag­ger­ing 686 square kilo­me­tres of ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas.

Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion spokesman Daniel Ber­lant said 22 wild­fires were burn­ing yes­ter­day, up from 17 the day be­fore. Of­fi­cials voiced con­cern that sep­a­rate fires would merge into even larger in­fer­nos.

They said 8000 firefighters and other per­son­nel, 550 fire trucks, 73 he­li­copters and 30 air tankers were bat­tling the blazes, and more re­sources were pour­ing in from Ore­gon, Ne­vada, Washington and Ari­zona.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said hun­dreds of peo­ple were still re­ported miss­ing.

Fires were ‘‘burn­ing faster than firefighters can run, in some sit­u­a­tions’’, Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Direc­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci said.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The smoke-filled sky above Dis­ney­land in Ana­heim turns or­ange as the wild­fires con­tinue to rage in Cal­i­for­nia.

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