At least 31 dead in California wildfires; weather stays dry

National/World News
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SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The misery and heartbreak caused by nearly two dozen wildfires devastating homes and lives in Northern California isn’t going to end anytime soon, officials said.

“We’re not even close to being out of this emergency,” Mark Ghilarducci, the director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, said Thursday afternoon.

The largest fires are still burning with little containment and the weather has not helped the thousands of firefighters battling those deadly blazes and new ones that pop up each day.

“We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe,” Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said.

Fires, which have killed 31 people, were burning erratically Thursday, he said.

Authorities were concerned about new red flag warnings that said winds were going to pick up this week.

The good news was reinforcements are coming from across the state and the country, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said.

Both factors are “starting to give us the upper hand, allowing us to actually … (get) some containment started in certain areas,” he said.

Still, the biggest fires were huge challenges. The 40,000-plus acre Atlas Fire in Napa and Solano counties was just 3 percent contained and the 34,000-acre Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma was only 10 percent under control.

Fires have ravaged Northern California’s wine country since Sunday night, destroying at least 3,500 structures and leading to scores of missing-person reports, authorities said.

At least 400 people are reported missing in Sonoma County alone, where a fire wiped out thousands of homes in Santa Rosa, a city of about 175,000 people roughly 50 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Sleep-deprived, soot-covered firefighters are working to contain the wildfires, even as some of their own homes have been hit.

The mayor of a small town threatened by one of 21 wildfires had a stern message Thursday for residents who hadn’t evacuated yet: Leave, or you’re on your own.

Evacuations were ordered Wednesday for Calistoga, a city of about 5,000 people in Napa County, as a fire burned nearby.

Flames were approaching the city limits Thursday, and a few people have ignored evacuation orders, Mayor Chris Canning said.

“Your choice to stay … is a distraction to our first responders. You will not be given life safety support at this point. You are on your own,” Canning said Thursday morning at a news conference.

More than 2,800 residences in Santa Rosa, California, have been destroyed by wildfires, Mayor Chris Coursey said.

Wildfires have burned more than 191,000 acres throughout the state. The largest fires were in Northern California’s Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, littering the landscape with charred rubble and clouds of smoke.

Of the 31 people who have died since Sunday night, 17 were killed in Sonoma County, officials said.

At least four people have died in Yuba County as a result of the Northern California wildfires, county spokesman Russ Brown said. Eight people have died in Mendocino County and two people from Napa County have been killed.

Winds could be especially gusty Friday night through Saturday, the National Weather Service says. No rain is expected for almost a week.

Almost 8,000 firefighters are trying to contain the blazes, officials said. They’re using 820 firetrucks — at least 170 from out of state — 73 helicopters and more than 30 planes.

Fires have knocked out power to about 49,000 utility customers, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Fiona Chan said.

Cellphone service also has been spotty, because the fires put dozens of cellphone towers out of commission in the region, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said.

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