NAPA, Calif. – With roads still obstructed by the authorities and fires still raging across broad swaths of Northern California, Matt Lenzi hiked through smoke-choked vineyards and waded the Napa River to access the home his father resided in for 53 years. In its place, he discovered only blackened debris, blackened earth, and ash.
“Every piece of vegetation was gone,” stated Mr. Lenzi on Tuesday, after going back in the vain anticipation of discovering the pet cat that his dad, Carl Lenzi, who is in his 80s, left behind when he fled for his life. “Even the barbecue melted, and that’s built to take heat.”
The fires ravaging California’s wine country since Sunday night – part of an outbreak of blazes stretching almost the whole length of the state – continued to burn out of control on Wednesday, as the result increased to at least 17 folks verified dead, hundreds hospitalized, and thousands of buildings demolished or damaged. But state and local officials cautioned that with several hundred folks still missing and unaccounted for, and some areas still out of reach of emergency crews, those figures are almost sure to increase.
The two biggest and most destructive fires had absorbed more than 70,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties by Wednesday morning, up from 52,000 on Tuesday afternoon, based on Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency. In all, six fires had burned more than 91,000 acres in the two counties, and Cal Fire rated all but the smallest of them as 3 percent secured, or less.
The high winds that had powered the blazes died down on Tuesday, but factors were anticipated to get worse on Wednesday and Thursday.
“The wind’s going to pick up this afternoon, and there’s a lot of concerns about where the fires will go,” Robert Giordano, the Sonoma County sheriff, stated on Wednesday. “If you have a place to go, go. The less people we have here and the less area we have to evacuate, the better.”
More than 20,000 folks have listened to evacuation warnings, fleeing on foot and by car as the fires overtook their towns – local governments issued new evacuation orders early Wednesday – and many of them have spent nights in dozens of evacuation centers set up around the region. Survivors told of narrow escapes from walls of flame that appeared to erupt from nowhere on Sunday night and Monday morning, driving them to run even before text messages and other alerts were sent out by emergency warning systems.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday visited the California Office of Emergency Services close to Sacramento to announce that President Trump had authorized Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a major disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to assist the state in recovery initiatives.
Ken Pimlott, chief of Cal Fire, stated that the cause of the fires was still uncertain and would be investigated. He mentioned that 95 percent of fires in the state were triggered by humans in some manner, and stated that even a small spark in windy, dry conditions could grow quickly into a large fire.
Fires interrupted utilities in and around wine country, which includes cellular service, which ranged from spotty to nonexistent, making it more difficult for individuals to reach family and friends and for emergency workers to search for the missing. Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, stated that about 77 cellphone sites were damaged or demolished.
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