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Deadly Northern California wildfire incinerates homes

/ 09:39 AM September 15, 2015
California Wildfires

A line of burned-out vehicles remain in a development of where about two dozen homes were destroyed two days earlier, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, in Cobb, Calif. Two of California’s fastest-burning wildfires in decades overtook several Northern California towns, killing at least one person and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and sending thousands of residents fleeing highways lined with buildings, guardrails and cars still in flames. AP

MIDDLETOWN, California — An explosive wildfire burned largely unchecked Monday after incinerating hundreds of homes and other buildings throughout rural communities north of California’s Napa Valley, leaving at least one person dead and sending tens of thousands fleeing down flame-lined streets.

But it’s not the only one. A second massive blaze, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) away, destroyed 135 homes as it spread through the Sierra Nevada. That fire was 30 percent contained.

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Both fires have displaced 23,000 people, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Monday with Gov. Jerry Brown.

READ: California declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

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An elderly, disabled woman who was trapped in her home died in the wildfire about 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside the famed Napa Valley. Others are missing, but officials don’t yet know whether those unaccounted for are elsewhere.

“These fires will take lives and they will cause injuries, and we have to do the best we can, because we are really in a battle with nature, that nature is more powerful than we are,” Brown said.

Authorities flooded with requests for evacuation assistance could not rescue the disabled woman who called for help Saturday evening. The flames prevented deputies from reaching her subdivision, and rescue workers found her body when the fire subsided, Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brooks said.

The fire exploded in size within hours as it chewed through brush and trees parched from four years of drought, destroying 400 homes, two apartment complexes and 10 businesses since igniting Saturday, Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynn Valentine said. By Monday morning, crews had gained 5 percent containment of the 95-square-mile (250-sq. kilometer) blaze.

Residents fled from Middletown, a town of more than 1,000 residents, dodging smoldering telephone poles, downed power lines and fallen trees as they drove through billowing smoke. Several hundred people spent Sunday night at the Napa County Fairgrounds and awoke to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and doughnuts.

Four firefighters who are members of a helicopter crew suffered second-degree burns during the initial attack on the fire. They remained hospitalized in stable condition.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency to free up resources. He had already declared a state of emergency for the separate 111-square-mile (290-sq. kilometer) wildfire southeast of Sacramento that has turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white.

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Ghilarducci, of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said this summer’s fires are the most volatile he has seen in 30 years of emergency response work. The main cause behind the fast-spreading fires is dry conditions from the drought.

Firefighters have maintained a precautionary line around Grant Grove, an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees, and set prescribed burns to keep the flames from overrunning it. The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet (81 meters) tall.

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TAGS: burn, California, Fire, homes, Napa Valley, Sierra Nevada, wildfire
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