Death toll hits 40 in California wildfires; thousands find homes destroyed

A new development lies in ruins in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Saturday. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

Oct. 15 (UPI) — The death toll in the Northern California wildfires hit 40 as firefighters entered the second week of attempting to douse multiple blazes and residents returned to find nothing left to salvage from their homes.

On Saturday night, Sonoma County announced that its coroner had confirmed two more deaths, bringing the death toll there to 22.

Sixteen fires have scorched 214,000 acres, forced the evacuation of 100,000 people and destroyed about 5,700 structures, Cal Fire said Saturday.

That includes several thousand homes, including in the wine country of Napa.

“You realize, you don’t put your boots on and your gloves on and go sift through stuff. There’s nothing to sift through,” Janice Mathis told KOVR-TV. “The first thing we think of is we’re fortunate.”

She owned a three-bedroom home with her husband Bill.

More than 100 homes across this neighborhood near Silverado Resort in Napa burned down in the Atlas fire that killed two people.

The Silverado Resort escaped major damage.

Michaella Flores, who was uninjured in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, returned to Santa Rosa days later to find her home destroyed by fire.

“It’s just a very helpless feeling,” she said to CNN. “I just thought, well, I’ve been in these situations before. It shouldn’t be a big deal. But when it’s happening to you, it’s a whole different realm.”

Flores, a former firefighter and paramedic, said: “I don’t sleep. I haven’t had any time to process any of this.”

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency is assessing damage, providing aid to local agencies and offering federal funding to residents affected by the fire.

The National Guard is helping the California Highway Patrol block the roads, as Caltrans crews in the hills work to remove debris and downed power lines, CHP Capt. Chris Childs said.

Three fires have consumed more than 130,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. The Atlas fire in Napa and Solano counties had reached 51,057 acres and was 56 percent contained followed by the Nuns fire in Sonoma County that scorched 46,104 acres and was 10 percent contained, and the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa counties at 35,470 acres and 50 percent contained.

Because of strong winds, red flag warnings remain in effect across Northern California through the weekend.

On Sunday, officials were bracing for increased winds and temperatures expected be in mid-80s.

Northerly winds are forecast to move across the region at about 15 mph overnight with some 25 mph gusts, he said. Temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-40s overnight, with temperatures expected to hover in the mid-80s Sunday.

Dry air will continue to ignite grass and vegetation into fuel.

National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said, “It’s been drying out the mountains.”

An offshoot of the Nuns fire ignited early Saturday when a downed power line touched a tree branch. It has grown from 300 acres to more than 400 acres in several hours near Oakmont, Cal Fire said.

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