Hellfire toll grows
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.
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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.