At least 23 dead in California fires

Oman Daily Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

SONOMA, California: Fire­fight­ers strug­gled to halt the spread of wild­fires known to have killed 23 peo­ple in North California, pre­par­ing for winds to shift after one town threat­ened by flames evac­u­ated all res­i­dents.

The edge of the deadly Tubbs fire was less than 3 km from Cal­is­toga, a Napa Val­ley com­mu­nity whose 5,000 res­i­dents left their homes on Wed­nes­day. Whether the town burns “is go­ing to de­pend on the wind,” its Fire Chief Steve Camp­bell said early on Thurs­day. “High winds are pre­dicted, but we have not re­ceived them yet.” Tubbs is one of nearly two dozen fires span­ning eight coun­ties that, rag­ing largely unchecked since ig­nit­ing on Sun­day, have left hun­dreds of res­i­dents un­ac­counted for.

They have also charred around 170,000 acres (69,000 hectares) of land and de­stroyed some 3,500 build­ings since. While their cause has not been con­clu­sively de­ter­mined, they are thought to have been sparked by power lines top­pled by gale force winds, and fanned by hot, dry “Di­ablo” winds that blew into north­ern California to­ward the Pa­cific.

New ad­vi­sory evac­u­a­tions were also is­sued in Sonoma County late on Wed­nes­day for parts of Santa Rosa, the largest city in the state’s world-renowned wine coun­try, and Gey­serville, an un­in­cor­po­rated town of 800 peo­ple. “The winds are pre­dicted to be very er­ratic,” said county spokesman Barry Du­gan. “There will be burst of high gusts that can be... very un­pre­dictable and dif­fi­cult when you are fight­ing a fire and also for res­i­dents who we are try­ing to keep posted.”

Wild­fires have dam­aged or de­mol­ished at least 13 Napa Val­ley winer­ies, a vint­ners’ trade group said on Tues­day. Around 25,000 peo­ple re­mained un­der evac­u­a­tion on Wed­nes­day as the fires belched smoke that drifted south over the San Fran­cisco Bay area, where some res­i­dents donned face masks.

More than 285 peo­ple were still miss­ing in Sonoma County late on Wed­nes­day night, the sher­iff said on Twit­ter. It was un­clear how many might be fire vic­tims rather than evac­uees who had not checked in with au­thor­i­ties. In Santa Rosa, blocks in some neigh­bour­hoods re­sem­bled war zones, with lit­tle left but charred de­bris, bro­ken walls, chim­neys and the steel frames of burned-out cars.

The 23 recorded deaths make the fires the dead­li­est in the state since 1991, with Tubbs, which has ac­counted for 13 fa­tal­i­ties, the worst sin­gle blaze since 2003, ac­cord­ing to state data.

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