At least 24 people have died in Northern California fires, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano announced. At least 463 are still considered missing, although that number is down from 600, who were unaccounted for yesterday.
The firefighters continue to struggle with the blaze, but the weather conditions are not ideal for them. Gusting winds and dry air could drive the next wave of wildfires, and make the smothering of active fires very difficult. Winds up to 70 kilometers per hour are expected to hit the region. Entire towns have been evacuated, and the authorities called on everybody to follow the instructions.
“The winds are predicted to be very erratic,” said county spokesman Barry Dugan. “There will be a burst of high gusts that can be very unpredictable and difficult when you are fighting a fire and also for residents who we are trying to keep posted.”
The edge of the deadly Tubbs fire was less than three kilometers from Calistoga, a Napa Valley community whose 5,000 residents left their homes on Wednesday. “Whether the town burns is going to depend on the wind,” its Fire Chief Steve Campbell told Reuters early on Thursday. “High winds are predicted, but we have not received them yet.”
They have also charred around 70,000 hectares of land and destroyed some 3,500 buildings since. Wildfires have damaged or demolished at least 13 Napa Valley wineries, a vintners’ trade group said.
Around 25,000 people remained under evacuation on Wednesday as the fires belched smoke that drifted south over the San Francisco Bay area, where some residents donned face masks.
The 24 recorded deaths make the fires the deadliest in the state since 1991, with Tubbs, which has accounted for 13 fatalities, the worst single blaze since 2003. In addition to high winds, the fires have been stoked by an abundance of thick brush left tinder-dry by a summer of hot, dry weather.