A helicopter draws water from a pond to help put out a fire near Napa, California, Oct. 12, 2017.
A helicopter draws water from a pond to help put out a fire near Napa, California, Oct. 12, 2017.

PENNGROVE, CALIFORNIA - Firefighters battling massive wildfires in California are “making progress” and “beginning to contain” the fire, officials said Thursday.

“Today is a different day, and it’s a good day for us. We are now hitting this fire on two fronts,” Napa County Supervisor Delia Ramos said.

Fire crews entered their fourth day of fighting the fire on Thursday, as strong, dry winds returned to the area, further complicating the jobs of the thousands of firefighters on hand to battle the blaze.

Barry Biermann, deputy chief for California’s fire protection team (CAL Fire), said additional resources are continuing to pour in and it has allowed officials “gain the upper hand” and “actually  ... (get) some containment started in certain areas" of the fire.

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“As more and more resources come in, we will continue to get additional containment on these fires, those numbers will start to go up and we’re hoping that the weather continues to cooperate and be mild and allow us the opportunity to make good progress,” Biermann said.

The raging wildfires had spread Wednesday, fanned by stiff winds that forced new evacuations in a widening circle of damage.

At least 26 people have been killed and several hundred are reported as missing. Live power lines lay in the street in burnt-out neighborhoods as firefighters battled dry conditions. All that remained of some neighborhoods are a few blackened chimneys and charred trees and abandoned cars.

Officials said 21 wildfires are burning in northern California and have destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

A California Fire Department forester inspects dam
A California Fire Department forester inspects damage at homes destroyed by fires in Santa Rosa, California, Oct. 12, 2017.

The fires have burnt more than 75,000 hectares over several counties that are world famous for vineyards and wineries - some of which were destroyed.

Police blocked off many roads and prevented people from going into the destroyed neighborhoods, where some people said they no longer could recognize streets and surroundings.

‘I have nothing’

But Dave Larson, of Glen Ellen, California, sneaked into his destroyed neighborhood to look for his cats and to see if any of his neighbors' homes still stood. He knew his was gone.

“This to me is like a nuclear bomb went off,” Larson said near his home. “I’ve woken up the last two mornings, thinking it was maybe a dream but then I realized I have nothing. I have someone else’s clothes now. It’s bizarre having nothing.”

As he surveyed the damage, he marveled how some of his neighbors’ homes survived. He said he regretted that he hadn’t stayed, like his neighbors, standing on the roof with his hose and fighting the fire himself.

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Gordon O’Brien, a fire captain from the city of Alameda, about 70 miles away, said when a fire is coming fast, there is little humans can do except to save their own lives.

On Wednesday, O’Brien and his crew were stomping out flare-ups, hoping to curtail the fire from creating more damage.

“We’re not focused a whole lot on actual containment,” he said. “We’re focused on structure protection and in the fire lines to stop anything else from burning down.”  

Larson alerted the firefighters to a missing person on the street. They poked through the person’s home looking for remnants of anything – his wheelchair, for example, but found nothing.

Larson’s classic car collection was a smoldering heap of metal. And his antiques were gone.

But he found something of sentimental value propped up against his melted flat screen TV — his grandfather’s rifle, 100 years old and a memento from World War II. The gun, covered in soot and ash, looked like a burnt stick, although its bayonet was still intact. Larson said he wished he had grabbed the gun as he left.

People here have had little time to take stock of their losses. For now, they are hoping to make it through the fire safely.

California's forestry department fire chief, Ken Pimlott, called the wildfires "a serious, critical, catastrophic event." He is helping oversee the 8,000 firefighters battling the flames.

Authorities do not know the exact cause of these fires, which became deadly on Sunday. They say anything from a car backfire to a thoughtlessly tossed cigarette can bring on an inferno.

President Donald Trump has declared parts of northern California a disaster area, making it eligible for speedy federal aid. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in eight counties

Strong dry winds called the Santa Ana winds blowing across the valleys from the mountains put northern California at an extremely high risk for wildfires in the late summer and early fall.

California Wildfires