35 killed in California wildfires

2017-10-14 23:00
(Kent Porter, AP)

(Kent Porter, AP)

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Los Angeles - The death toll from raging California's wildfires rose to 35 on Saturday, with about 10 000 firefighters battling 16 large blazes and 100 000 people evacuated, the state's fire service said.

Around 864km² of residential neighbourhoods, forests and other property have been burned since Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"These fires have been extremely destructive and it's estimated that 5 700 structures had been destroyed. Crews continue their search for missing people", the service said.

"Red flag warnings remain in effect across northern California due to strong north winds, which have already increased fire activity. Those winds are forecast through the day and expected to decrease by late on Sunday".

Resting places

Pre-dawn winds in Santa Rosa have complicated the effort, pushing a blaze known as the Nuns Fire in two separate directions and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes near Oakmont and northeast of the city of Sonoma, Cal Fire said.

Numerous churches across the region - in Santa Rosa, Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma and Novato - were housing victims of the wildfires and serving as resting places for firefighters, according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper. 

California Governor Jerry Brown announced the White House had approved a request for direct aid for families in four counties, adding to emergency funds promised to the devastated winemaking areas of Napa and Sonoma. 

Brown's office said he and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris would meet community leaders and emergency management officials in the region, with nine counties still under a state of emergency.

Charred remains

In Redwood Valley, a small town around 112km north of the Sonoma County fires that threatened world-renowned wineries, officials have been struggling with the gruesome task of naming victims.

At least eight people were killed late last Sunday by a wildfire that "swept through the area so fast it engulfed moving cars," the Bee reported, adding that only three of the bodies had been identified.

The settlement's 2 300 residents have been begging for information about missing friends and relatives as rescuers scour the charred remains of dozens of homes.

The last week has been the deadliest for wildfires in California's history, according to officials.

The Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles County in 1933 killed at least 29 people and 25 people died in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said on Friday that his department was continuing to track down people reported missing by family or friends. 

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department had received 1 308 missing persons reports so far and 1 052 people have been located, Giordano said.

Evacuation orders were in place for several towns in Napa and Sonoma, where hundreds of people have already lost their homes to the fast-moving infernos.

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