California wildfires: One dead in wine country blazes

Fast-spreading fires destroy 1,500 homes and businesses and displace 20,000 people

 

At least one person has been killed and two seriously injured in fast-spreading wildfires in northern California’s wine country, officials say.

CalFire said the death and injuries occurred in Mendocino County, one of several counties in northern California struggling to contain 14 major fires.

The fires, whipped by powerful winds, have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and businesses and sent about 20,000 people fleeing to safety.

The state’s fire chief said the damage estimates for the fires were conservative and that the fires were burning throughout an eight-county stretch of northern California, including Napa, Sonoma and Yuba.

Fires also burned in Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties — all north of the state capital. Many of the fires spread suddenly overnight, whipped by the furious winds.

A spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric said 114,000 customers were without power.

Numerous people have been hurt and some are missing, although no estimates were immediately available, said California department of forestry and fire protection director Ken Pimlott.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered after the blazes broke out late on Sunday. Long queues formed at filling stations as families heeded a middle-of-the-night call to get out.

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa, the largest city in the fire area, with a population of about 175,000, was hit hard by a blaze. The city lost unknown numbers of businesses and homes as the blaze shut down schools and forced more than 200 patients at two city hospitals to evacuate.

A Hilton Hotel in the city was seen smouldering and in ruins.

Napa County fire chief Barry Biermann said the fires had burned more than 176sq km and that crews had not yet been able to contain a fire heading towards central Napa.

“Right now, with these conditions, we can’t get ahead of this fire and do anything about the forward progress,” Mr Biermann said.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

Smoke was thick in San Francisco, 97km south of the Sonoma County fire.

Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke, prompting officials to ask that the public “only use 911 if they see actual unattended flames, or are having another emergency”.

The US National Weather Service said widespread wind gusts between 56km/h and 80km/h were observed in the north San Francisco Bay region and gusts in isolated spots hit 113km/h. The winds were expected to subside later.

AP