SONOMA. — Firefighters struggled for a fourth day yesterday to halt the spread of wildfires that have killed at least 24 people in Northern California and left hundreds missing in the pandemonium of mass evacuations in the heart of the state’s wine country. A resurgence of dry, gusty winds threatened to push flames into the Napa Valley town of Calistoga, whose 5 000-plus residents were ordered from their homes on Wednesday night as conditions worsened and fire crept closer.
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning warned anyone refusing to heed the mandatory evacuation was “not welcome” in the town and posed a distraction to firefighters.
“You will not be given life safety support,” he said during a Thursday morning news conference. “You are on your own.” Fire authorities said crews were beginning to carve containment lines around the perimeters of a handful of fires. Nearly two dozen blazes spanning eight counties have raged largely unchecked since igniting on Sunday night, scorching 170 000 acres (69 000 hectares) and destroying at least 3 500 buildings.
Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to panoramas of ash, smouldering ruins, charred trees and burned-out cars by a series of firestorms that rank among the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history. Twenty-four people have been confirmed dead, the greatest loss of life from a single California wildfire event since 1991, and authorities said the death toll could climb higher.
“We have found bodies that were completely intact, and we have found bodies that were no more than ash and bone,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told reporters. As many as 900 missing-persons reports had been filed in Sonoma County alone, although 437 have since turned up safe, Giordano said. It remained unclear how many of the 463 still listed as unaccounted for might be actual fire victims rather than evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes, he said. — Reuters.