The numbers from the 22 wildfires blazing through Northern California's wine country are already terrible: at least 23 dead, with more fatalities expected; more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed, including at least five wineries; 265 square miles, or 170,000 acres, of scorched or burning land; 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze, some working at least 40 hours straight; tens of thousands of people under mandatory evacuation, including all of Geyserville and Calistoga. But firefighters are worried about what's coming Thursday: Diablo winds of up to 45 mph are forecast to sweep through the area, with little or no humidity.
"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday. "We are literally looking at explosive vegetation." Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said that California has "had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over." And "we are at very low containment on most of these," added Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "These fires are literally burning faster than firefighters can run."
Investigators aren't sure what sparked the fires Sunday night, though they are examining reports that the same high winds that spread the fire rapidly and unpredictably also caused them by knocking down power lines. Peter Weber
A 78-square-mile wildfire in California's northern Lake County, just north of Napa County, has killed one person, injured four firefighters, and destroyed at least 400 homes and 1,000 other structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said late Sunday. The conflagration started Saturday and ignited the drought-stricken region, destroying much of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake. It is zero percent contained, Cal Fire said Sunday night.
According to Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin, it's "the worst tragedy Lake County has ever seen." The level of destruction prompted Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to declare a state of emergency for Lake and Napa counties, freeing up already stretched resources and calling in the California National Guard. Brown declared states of emergency for Amador and Calaveras counties on Friday.
California is battling more than a dozen active wildfires, the Los Angeles Times reports, the largest of which has torched 203 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Fresno. That fire, the Rough fire, started July 31 with a lightning strike, and is 36 percent contained, with some 3,000 firefighters battling to quash it and protect the famed sequoia trees in Sequoia National Forest. You can watch footage of the Lake County blaze in the Associated Press video below. Peter Weber