Winds expected to drive further California fires
SONOMA, California. (AP):
Gusting winds and dry air forecast yesterday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history.
Winds up to 45 mph (72 kph) were expected to pummel areas north of San Francisco, where at least 23 people have died and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed.
The conditions could erase modest gains made by firefighters.
"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," state fire Chief Ken Pimlott said.
Entire cities had evacuated in anticipation of the next round of flames, their streets empty, the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.
In Calistoga, a historic resort town known for wine tastings and hot springs, 5,300 people were under evacuation orders.
Tens of thousands more have been driven from their homes by the flames. A few left behind cookies for firefighters and signs reading, "Please save our home!"
DESTRUCTION AND DEATH
The 22 fires, many out of control, spanned more than 265 square miles (686 square kilometres) as the inferno entered its fourth day. Strategic attacks that have kept wildfire destruction and death tolls low in recent years haven't worked against the ferocity of the blazes.
"We are literally looking at explosive vegetation," Pimlott said. "Make no mistake, this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event."
Officials say fire crews have some progress on the deadliest fire in Sonoma County, bringing containment to 10 per cent.
However, residents in the community of Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County were told to clear out Wednesday, and the streets were quickly lined with cars packed with fleeing people.
"That's very bad," resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires towards the town of Sonoma, where 11,000 people live. "It'll go up like a candle."
The ash rained down on Sonoma Valley, covering windshields, as winds picked up. Countless emergency vehicles hurried towards the flames, sirens blaring, as evacuees sped away after jamming possessions into their cars and filling their gas tanks.