At least 21 dead as resurgent winds fan California wildfires (Source Reuters) Firefighters, facing resurgent winds and bone-dry conditions on Wednesday, battled to halt the advance of wildfires that have killed at least 21 people, destroyed 3,500 homes and businesses and blanketed Northern California’s famed wine country in smoke. A rash of 22 blazes spanning nine counties have scorched nearly 170,000 acres (68,797 hectares) since the first flames erupted on Sunday night in what state fire officials say is one of the deadliest wildfire outbreaks in California history. More than 550 people were still reported missing in Sonoma County on Wednesday morning, said Jennifer Laroque, a spokeswoman for the county’s emergency operations center. It was unclear how many might be actual fire victims rather than evacuees who merely failed to check in with authorities after fleeing their homes. Officials urged displaced residents to let their family members know they were safe. The Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, the largest city in the wine country region, was particularly hard hit by one of the fiercest blazes, the so-called Tubbs fire. Block after block of some neighborhoods were virtually obliterated with nothing left but charred debris, broken walls, chimneys and the steel frames of burned-out cars.”It’s like driving through a war zone,” J.J. Murphy, 22, one of thousands of evacuees, said of the area around his home in the Sonoma Valley community of Glen Ellen. Murphy, five relatives, a bird, a dog and two cats piled into their camper van to flee on Monday, he said. “It’s crazy how in just a few hours a place I’ve recognized all my life I can’t recognize,” he said at a roadside food stop in the town of Sonoma. Gusts of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph) and 10 percent humidity were forecast for Wednesday and Thursday for parts of the Northern California fire zone. Firefighters worked on Wednesday to strengthen fire containment lines as winds picked up again.
“We’re not out of the woods and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great number of days to come,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said at a news conference.