(KRON) — Ten people killed when 14 fast-moving wildfires destroyed more than 1,500 homes, department stores, hotels and other commercial structures in Northern California.
And authorities expect the death toll to rise as they continue to battle the blazes and asses the damage.
The state’s top fire officials said Monday that firefighters have focused on evacuating residents and saving lives rather than battling the blaze and protecting buildings.
Fourteen large fires were burning, spread over a 200-mile region north of San Francisco from Napa in the south to Redding in the north. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.
Fire officials tell KRON4 that there is zero to limited containment.
Several areas are under evacuation orders across both counties, including some Santa Rosa hospitals. 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
Long lines formed at gas stations when many families heeded a middle-of-the-night call to get out. A representative of Pacific Gas & Electric said 114,000 customers were without power.
Multiple school districts are closing until further notice, even if the school itself is not in imminent danger.
“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” said Marian Williams, who caravanned with neighbors before dawn as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards and ridges at her small Sonoma County town of Kenwood.
Williams could feel the heat of her fire through the car as she fled. “Trees were on fire like torches,” she said.
California’s fire chief says numerous people have been injured and a number of residents are also missing as the large fires burn.
October is typically the most dangerous time for fires in the state. He said there have been 1,500 more wildfires this year than last year at this time.
Santa Rosa, the largest city in the fire area with a population of about 175,000, was hit hard. The city lost a Kmart and an unknown number of other businesses and homes as the blaze shut down schools and forced patients at two hospitals to evacuate. A Hilton Hotel was reduced to smoldering ruins.
“Imagine a wind-whipped fire burning at explosive rates. This is 50 miles per hour. Literally, it’s burning into the city of Santa Rosa … burning box stores,” Pimlott said. “This is traditionally California’s worst time for fires.”
A 6:45 p.m. curfew is in effect until sunrise for mandatory evacuation zones.
The flames were burning “at explosive rates” because of 50 mph winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The inferno blackened miles along one of the main gateways into wine country, State Highway 12 into Sonoma County. Wooden fence posts and guard rails burned fiercely. Thick smoke roiled from one winery, JR Cohn.
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