‘Burn­ing faster than fire­fight­ers can run’

Fire­fight­ers could find the dan­gers only in­creas­ing

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Trevor Hughes and Doug Stan­glin

Thou­sands of fire­fight­ers bat­tled two dozen blazes in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia on Thurs­day — along with wind gusts of up to 45 mph. And the worst may be yet to come: Fore­cast­ers warn that a new round of winds ex­pected late Fri­day into Sun­day may not only ham­per the ef­forts of fire­fight­ers but also fur­ther spread the flames. At least 28 peo­ple have been killed.

Thou­sands of fire­fight­ers bat­tling two dozen deadly fires in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia faced an­other round of rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions Thurs­day with a fore­cast of low hu­mid­ity and winds gusts of up to 45 mph — with no hint of rain.

Con­di­tions were not ex­pected to im­prove. Winds, in­clud­ing a new round ex­pected late Fri­day into Sun­day, may not only ham­per the ef­forts of fire­fight­ers but also in­crease the risk of new hot spots, fore­cast­ers warned.

The death toll in­creased to at least 28. About 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed.

“Red flag ” warn­ings of dan­ger­ous con­di­tions were in ef­fect for much of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and have been ex­tended from Big Sur to the Santa Cruz moun­tains.

Gov. Jerry Brown has is­sued emer­gency dec­la­ra­tions for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba Butte, Lake, Men­do­cino, Ne­vada, Or­ange and Solano coun­ties.

“It’s go­ing to con­tinue to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter,” state fire chief Ken Pim­lott warned.

The big­gest blaze, called the Tubbs Fire, was only 10% con­tained on Thurs­day.

Chaotic evac­u­a­tions and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions have made find- ing friends and fam­ily dif­fi­cult. Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said hun­dreds were still miss­ing, although of­fi­cials be­lieve many of those — al­most 400 — will be found. The death toll could climb, he said: “The dev­as­ta­tion is enor­mous.”

Au­thor­i­ties have thrown vast re­sources at the fire, in­clud­ing more than 70 he­li­copters, 30 air tankers and 550 firetrucks.

“We are at very low con­tain­ment on most of th­ese,” said Mark Ghi­lar­ducci, di­rec­tor of the state Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices. “Th­ese fires are lit­er­ally burn­ing faster than fire­fight­ers can run.”

Sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties or­dered last-minute evac­u­a­tions ahead of the fast-mov­ing fires, in­clud­ing the his­toric re­sort town of Cal­is­toga, pop­u­la­tion 5,300, fa­mous for its wine tast­ings and hot springs.

The few peo­ple who re­mained in Cal­is­toga overnight awoke to smoky skies and a light ash­fall but no ac­tual fire in the town.

In the early hours af­ter the fire broke out, Sonoma County fire and emer­gency of­fi­cials dis­cussed send­ing out an Am­ber Alert-style mes­sage to cell­phones but de­cided against it be­cause the mes­sage would have gone to thou­sands of peo­ple not in im­me­di­ate dan­ger, SFGate.com re­ports.

JA­SON BEAN, USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Al­most 200,000 acres have gone up in flames, with no re­lief in sight.

JAY CALDERON AND RICHARD LUI, USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Most of the Jour­neys End mo­bile home com­mu­nity in Santa Rosa, Calif., burned this week.

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