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