More evacuations ordered as deadly wildfires scorch Northern California

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NAPA, Calif. -- New evacuations were ordered Tuesday evening as more than a dozen wildfires raged across Northern California, with the largest ones killing at least 29 people as they scorched the state's famous wine country.

The largest of the deadly fires were burning in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, with flames ripping through the lush, picturesque landscape.

Officials in the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County called for the evacuations of five more areas Tuesday evening. Already, 20,000 people had been ordered to leave the area and other parts of Northern California.

It is too early to tell whether any of the wildfires were started by humans, said Ken Pimlott, director of Cal Fire.

"All these fires are under investigation," he told reporters, adding his department was focusing on rescues and firefighting.

But he said the chance the fires were caused by lightning was "fairly minimal."

At least 29  people have died since Sunday night, when most of the fires began. A total of 11 deaths were in Sonoma County, officials said.

Two of those who died were in Napa County, county spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said.

They were 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his wife, Sara, 98. They died when a fire engulfed their home near the Silverado Country Club north of Napa, Jourdan said.

About 2,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the fires in Northern California, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Tuesday.

More than 100 people were being treated at Napa- and Sonoma-area hospitals for fire-related injuries or health issues, including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

Wildfires were burning more than 115,000 acres in California as of Tuesday.

Most of the Northern California fires ignited Sunday night, driven by winds of more than 50 mph and dry conditions, Pimlott said Monday. 

The high winds led to "extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions," according to Cal Fire.

More than 180 people are missing, but authorities think communications issues are making it impossible for many of those people to check in with family.

Margaret Curzon said her parents lost almost everything in the wildfire that destroyed their home and the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, a city of about 175,000 roughly 50 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Her mom woke up early Monday morning and smelled smoke, but thought it was the neighbor's barbecue or chimney, so she went back to sleep. They woke up again because their bichon frise, Brady, was whimpering.

Her father looked outside and his first thought was that there was some sort of bomb, or an attack.

"It looked like we were at war," Curzon said. "The sky was orange and there were embers falling from the sky."

Curzon said her parents had five or 10 minutes to grab their two dogs and anything else they could and escape.

She said it took about a half-hour to get out of their neighborhood because cars were bumper to bumper.

"He could feel the car getting hotter and hotter because the fire kept creeping up and getting closer to them," she said.

The only thing that remained at her house was a concrete statue of the Virgin Mary, Curzon said after visiting the home site later Monday.

The devastation was significant in Santa Rosa. Fire leveled subdivisions and reduced cars and homes into burnt piles of ash and rubble.

Nearly 5,000 people were staying in Sonoma County shelters, county spokesman Scott Alonso said Tuesday.

A GoFundMe page has raised thousands of dollars for Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue, Napa Fire, Lake County Fire and Rescue, and people impacted by the fire.

A large part of Santa Rosa was evacuated, including Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital. Authorities imposed a sundown-to-sunrise curfew for the northern and eastern parts of the city under evacuation orders.

"We are asking people to stay indoors" because of smoke, Alonso said.

There is no rain in the forecast this week, according to the National Weather Service.


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