Hell­fire toll grows

New York Daily News - - VOICE OF THE PEOPLE - BY DE­NIS SLAT­TERY With News Wire Ser­vices

WILD­FIRE FLAMES grew higher, hot­ter and spread far­ther in Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try on Wednesday, killing at least 23 peo­ple and lay­ing waste to thou­sands of homes and busi­nesses.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple re­mained un­ac­counted for amid the chaos sparked by evac­u­a­tion or­ders and a mul­ti­tude of fires burn­ing across the re­gion.

Of­fi­cials, of­fer­ing a glim­mer of hope for those des­per­ately search­ing for friends and fam­ily, said they be­lieve many of those re­ported miss­ing will be found alive be­cause chaotic evac­u­a­tions and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions over the past few days have stymied search ef­forts.

“We get calls and peo­ple search­ing for lost folks and they’re not lost, they’re just stay­ing with some­body and we don’t know where it is,” said Napa County Su­per­vi­sor Brad Wa­genknecht.

Shel­ters and evac­u­a­tion cen­ters are set up across the area.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said he also ex­pects the death toll to climb.

“The dev­as­ta­tion is enor­mous,” he said. “We can’t even get into most ar­eas.”

As of Wednesday, 22 sep­a­rate wild­fires were burn­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, up from 17 the day be­fore.

The blazes, scorch­ing the earth for more than three days, have de­stroyed an es­ti­mated 3,500 homes and busi­nesses, mak­ing them the third dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive blazes in state his­tory.

“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the big­gest, most se­ri­ous, and it’s not over,” said Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown.

Of­fi­cials said at least 8,000 firefighters and other per­son­nel are bat­tling the in­ferno, and re­sources are still pour­ing in from Ore­gon, Ne­vada, Washington and Ari­zona.

But the fast-mov­ing fires have dec­i­mated whole neigh­bor­hoods, leav­ing noth­ing but the charred re­mains of houses and brick chim­neys stand­ing among soot-cov­ered lots.

“These fires are lit­er­ally just burn­ing faster than firefighters can run in some sit­u­a­tions,” Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Direc­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci said.

Draw at ‘21’ in Mid­town shows where hope­fuls will start in $1 mil­lion In­ter­na­tional Trot on Saturday at Yonkers Race­way. Inset, Ti­mothy Rooney, CEO of Em­pire City Casino at Yonkers, with tro­phy.

Smoke rises from wild­fires in hills around Santa Rosa, Calif., on Wednesday. Death toll from blazes that have scorched wine coun­try rose to at least 23.

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