Death toll rises to 31 in deadliest week of wildfires in Califor - KUSI News - San Diego, CA

Death toll rises to 31 in deadliest week of wildfires in California's history

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By JONATHAN J. COOPER and JOCELYN GECKER
Associated Press

  
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) - Northern California's wildfires have now killed 31 people - making this the deadliest week of wildfires in state history.
  
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Thursday night that two more people have been confirmed dead there. That raises the statewide death total from 29 to 31.
  
The Oakland Hills fire of 1991 killed 29 people by itself.
  
While no one fire currently burning has killed that many, collectively this is the deadliest series of simultaneous fires in the state since records have been kept.
  
The blazes, most of them in wine country, broke out almost all at once on Sunday night.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott gave the updated death toll Wednesday, calling the series of wildfires in wine country "a serious, critical, catastrophic event."
  
At least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed since the wildfires started Sunday, making them the third-most deadly and destructive blazes in state history.
  
Nearly three days after the flames ignited in Northern California, firefighters were still unable to gain control the blazes, which were growing in number. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said 22 wildfires were burning, up from 17 on Tuesday.


  
Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the coastal beauty of Mendocino further north, leaving little more than smoldering ashes and eye-stinging smoke in their wake. Whole neighborhoods are gone, with only brick chimneys and charred laundry machines to mark sites that were once family homes.
  
Authorities ordered more evacuations for parts of Sonoma Valley after a blaze grew to 44 square miles (113 square kilometers). Officials also cautioned that after a day of cooler weather and calmer winds, dangerous gusts will return Wednesday.
  
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said the reports of missing people jumped to over 600, up from about 200 a day earlier. But officials believe many of those people will be found, saying that the chaotic evacuations and poor communications over the past few days have made finding friends and family difficult.
  
Despite that, he expects the death toll will rise.
  
"The devastation is enormous," he said. "We can't even get into most areas. I would expect the number to go up."
  
Officials in Napa County say almost half of the population of Calistoga, a town of 5,000 people, were ordered to evacuate before sunrise. Officials went block by block, knocking on doors between 3 and 6 a.m. to warn people to leave, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
  
New evacuation orders were also in place for Green Valley in Solano County.
  
Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said high winds and low humidity fueled the fires and similar conditions were expected again.
  
"Yesterday was a very aggressive day for fire behavior with some rapid expansion for fires," he said at a news conference. "We are expecting some extreme fire behavior" on Wednesday.
  
In Southern California, cooler weather and moist ocean air helped firefighters gain ground against a wildfire that has scorched more than a dozen square miles.
  
Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said the blaze was nearly halfway surrounded and full containment was expected by Saturday, but another round of gusty winds and low humidity levels could arrive late Thursday.
  
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Gecker reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Juliet Williams and Andrew Dalton in San Francisco contributed to this report.
  
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Follow the AP's complete wildfire coverage here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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