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Damage Mounts From California Wildfires

  • VOA News

A wildfire burns behind a winery, Oct. 14, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Wildfires in California's famed wine country are spreading after a week of the worst blazes the state has ever seen.

The death toll rose to at least 40 on Saturday, with at least 16 fires burning. One side of the fire zone stretched for 160 square kilometers (62 square miles), destroying 5,700 homes and businesses. About 100,000 people have evacuated their homes.

But some have stayed behind. News reports related stories of people taking shelter in swimming pools while watching their homes burn to the ground.

Friday night into Saturday, the flames crept into the town of Sonoma, a name synonymous with the California wine industry, forcing 400 households in the city of 11,000 to evacuate. The nearby town of Santa Rosa also saw mass evacuations.

A firefighter mops up the area scorched by a wildfire, Oct. 14, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif. Fire crews made progress this week in their efforts to contain the massive wildfires in California wine country, but officials say strong winds are putting their work to the test.
A firefighter mops up the area scorched by a wildfire, Oct. 14, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif. Fire crews made progress this week in their efforts to contain the massive wildfires in California wine country, but officials say strong winds are putting their work to the test.

The strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow down from the mountains every late summer and early fall are creating conditions that make the fires spread easily. Some gust to 64 kilometers per hour (40 mph), pushing the flames over firebreaks dug by firefighters.

On Friday, Napa County's fire chief said the wildfires that started October 8 were "all combining into one," after days of dry, windy conditions.

Fire Chief Barry Biermann said he had teamed up with the state's fire protection agency to set up containment lines in "priority spots" to try to keep the fires from spreading.

Officials' inspection

Officials said that Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris were scheduled to tour the destruction in Sonoma County on Saturday.

Residents flee as new evacuation orders are issued, Oct. 14, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif. The death toll after a week of blazes in the state rose to at least 35, with at least 16 fires burning.
Residents flee as new evacuation orders are issued, Oct. 14, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif. The death toll after a week of blazes in the state rose to at least 35, with at least 16 fires burning.

More than 9,000 people were fighting the California wildfires, both local fire personnel and thousands of volunteers, who have poured into the area over the last few days.

The firefighters have come from other parts of California and as far away as Canada and Australia.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Dave Thompson said officers recovered bone fragments Friday from one person at a mobile home park that was destroyed by fire in Santa Rosa. He said there was a "high probability" they would find more.

Californians have been using social networks to identify supply shortages and fill them. Sonoma Valley Middle School Principal Will Deeths, who has been supervising an evacuation shelter at a local school, told The Associated Press that the community response had been heartwarming.

"Two days ago we were in need of ... diapers," he said. "Someone put it on Facebook and within an hour, four or five cars pulled up, two or three boxes. Boom, boom, boom, here you go."

A hairdresser also showed up to help people clean up once they were out of danger, and a local musician took in a guitar to help ease the long hours of waiting.

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