California wildfires continue to blaze; 15 dead

RSTV Bureau
Tustin: A wildfire moves closer to North Tustin homes along the 261 freeway in Tustin, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Deadly wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through California wine country Monday, destroying 1,500 homes and businesses and sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighborhoods. AP/PTI

Tustin: A wildfire moves closer to North Tustin homes along the 261 freeway in Tustin, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Deadly wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through California wine country Monday, destroying 1,500 homes and businesses and sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighborhoods. AP/PTI

The death toll in California wildfires, which continue to blaze, has risen to 15. Thousands have been rendered homeless in one of the worst wildfires in recent times.

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze in the state’s wine region.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in eight counties — including wine-producing Napa and Sonoma — and said thousands of firefighters had been deployed to fight the blazes.

Nine deaths were reported in Sonoma County, three in Mendocino County, two in Napa County and one in Yuba County and the governor said “emergency responders anticipate the number of fatalities could grow.”

Several people are still said to be missing.

About 25,000 people were evacuated in Sonoma County alone.

The fires have torched more than 115,000 acres (46,500 hectares) and destroyed over 2,000 homes and businesses, according to the authorities.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said 17 large fires were continuing to burn on Tuesday.

“The winds that fanned these fires Sunday night and Monday morning have decreased significantly, but local winds and dry conditions continue to pose a challenge,” Cal Fire said.

Several neighborhoods are reported to have been reduced to ashes.

“The homes are gone, they are like dust,” said Jack Dixon on Tuesday, a resident of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 in Sonoma County. “It is just like we were nuked.”

Dixon told AFP that his own neighborhood was spared when the fire “miraculously” changed direction but many others were not so fortunate.

“I am surrounded by devastation and feel lucky it didn’t happen to me,” Dixon said.

Fountaingrove: Jim Stites watches part of his neighborhood burn in Fountaingrove, Calif., Monday Oct. 9, 2017. More than a dozen wildfires whipped by powerful winds been burning though California wine country. The flames have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and businesses and sent thousands of people fleeing. AP/PTI

Fountaingrove: Jim Stites watches part of his neighborhood burn in Fountaingrove, Calif., Monday Oct. 9, 2017. More than a dozen wildfires whipped by powerful winds been burning though California wine country. The flames have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and businesses and sent thousands of people fleeing. AP/PTI

Much of the worst damage was in Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma County.

Among the wineries which reportedly suffered damage were William Hill Estate Winery in Napa, Signorello Vineyards, Stags’ Leap and Chimney Rock.

Newton told The Los Angeles Times he was returning home when he saw a “growing red snake” of fire.

“I ran into my house and told my wife to get our four-year-old boy ready to leave,” Newton said, before raising the alarm for around 40 neighbors.

Governor Brown in April declared the official end of the state’s drought that lasted more than five years.

But California is still dealing with the Santa Ana winds, a meteorological phenomenon which brings dry winds down from the high mountains east of the coastal areas — a recipe for perfect wildfire conditions.

Forest fires are common in the western United States during dry, hot summer months.

Last month, a massive fire described as the biggest in the history of Los Angeles forced hundreds to evacuate their homes.

US President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in California, and freed up federal fund and resources to help fight the 17 large wildfires in the western state.

(With inputs from agencies)