Strug­gle to con­tain rag­ing fires

The Witness - - FRONT -

Fire­fight­ers strug­gled to halt the spread of wild­fires that have killed at least 23 peo­ple in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and dry, gusty winds threat­ened yes­ter­day to push flames into the evac­u­ated town of Cal­is­toga.

Nearly two dozen fires span­ning eight coun­ties have raged largely unchecked since ig­nit­ing on Sun­day, leav­ing hun­dreds of res­i­dents un­ac­counted for.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice warned yes­ter­day morn­ing of per­sis­tent “crit­i­cal fire weather con­di­tions” in the area for the next three days, with no rain ex­pected and dry winds from the north with gusts up­ward of 55 km/h.

The dead­li­est of Cal­i­for­nia’s blazes, known as the Tubbs fire, was within three kilo­me­tres of Cal­is­toga — a com­mu­nity in the world­renowned Napa Val­ley wine coun­try whose 5 000 res­i­dents were told to leave their homes on Wed­nes­day.

Whether the town burns “is go­ing to de­pend on the wind,” Cal­is­toga’s fire chief Steve Camp­bell told Reuters early yes­ter­day. “High winds are pre­dicted but we have not re­ceived them yet.”

New evac­u­a­tions also were is­sued in Sonoma County on Wed­nes­day for parts of Santa Rosa — the largest city in the wine­pro­duc­ing re­gion, and Gey­serville — an un­in­cor­po­rated town of 800 peo­ple.

The fires have al­ready charred about 69 000 hectares of land and de­stroyed some 3 500 build­ings. Neigh­bour­hoods have been re­duced to panora­mas of ash, charred trees and burned­out cars.

While their cause has not been de­ter­ mined, the blazes are thought to have been sparked by power lines top­pled by gale­force winds and fanned by arid winds that blew into North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to­ward the Pa­cific.

Wild­fires have dam­aged or de­mol­ished at least 13 Napa Val­ley winer­ies, a vint­ners’ trade group said on Tues­day.

About 25 000 peo­ple re­mained dis­placed on Wed­nes­day as the fires belched smoke that drifted south over the San Fran­cisco Bay area. More than 285 peo­ple still were 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.

PHOTO: AP

A San Diego Cal Fire fire­fighter mon­i­tors a wild­fire flareup above the Sonoma Val­ley in Sonoma, Cal­i­for­nia. Fire­fight­ers strug­gled to halt the spread of wild­fires yes­ter­day that have killed at least 23 peo­ple in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric (PG&E) trucks are seen parked on a road be­tween homes de­stroyed by the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia.

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