A dozen wildfires burning across a wide swath of drought-stricken California — including two of the biggest wildfires in the state’s history — are consuming hundreds of homes and forcing thousands to flee.
One person was reported dead on Monday and others are “unaccounted for,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services.
By Monday, two huge fires straddling Sacramento, the state capital, had spread across multiple counties and destroyed more than 500 homes, forcing 23,000 people to evacuate. “These communities still are in an active firefight,” Ghilarducci said.
State officials said more than 11,000 firefighters were at work battling blazes statewide.
California Gov. Jerry Brown said the fierce battle showed, “We are really in a battle with nature, that nature is more powerful than we are.”
By Monday, the Butte Fire, which started last week in Amador County, southeast of Sacramento, had grown to more than 71,000 acres across two counties, State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said. It was 30% contained.
But the Valley Fire, northwest of Sacramento, was only 5% contained, he said. At 61,000 acres, it was “one of the most destructive fires already this year,” he said.
The fire started Saturday and by Monday it was burning in three counties, including Napa and Sonoma, the heart of California wine country. It had destroyed as many as 1,000 structures.
A third fire, known as the Rough Fire, which has been burning in Fresno County for well over a month, had burned 138,000 acres but was 40% contained, he said.
Many of the estimated 400 or more homes lost in the Valley Fire are in the Middletown area, where Ross Hardester owns Hardester’s Market. The store, aided by a generator provided by the local power company, remains open to serve firefighters and locals who are riding out the disaster.
“You see it in their eyes,” Hardester told USA TODAY. “Some of them have lost their homes. Some, their homes were saved. But everyone is heartbroken.”
The fire, which forced Brown to declare a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties, started Saturday afternoon northwest of Sacramento. Four firefighters have been injured battling the blaze.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office on Monday said the one fatality involved an “elderly, disabled female” at subdivision that was engulfed in flames on Saturday. After the fire subsided, firefighters discovered the victim’s body. She wasn’t immediately identified.
The cause of the Valley Fire, which started near the community of Cobb, is under investigation.
SOURCE: Greg Toppo and John Bacon