California gov. says wildfires could cost tens of billions; 23 dead

By Sara Shayanian, Allen Cone and Danielle Haynes   |   Updated Oct. 12, 2017 at 2:56 AM
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Oct. 11 (UPI) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday said nearly two dozen wildfires throughout the state could cost tens of billions of dollars as officials increased the death toll to 23.

Brown and other state and U.S. emergency officials offered an update on the fires -- primarily in the northern part of the state -- in a midday news conference.

Of the dead, 13 people were in Sonoma County, six in Mendocino County, two in Napa County and two in Yuba County, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Sonoma County, 670 people were reported missing and 110 people have been found safe, Sheriff Rob Giordano said.

Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said that despite a "brief respite" from high winds Tuesday, poor weather "continues to plague the state." On Wednesday, the state was under a red flag warning due to high winds. Pimlott said that despite rainfall last year, California is "still impacted by five years of drought."

"Make no mistake: This is a serious, critical, catastrophic event," he said."

Brown made a brief reference to climate change in his assessment of the wildfires.

"With a warming climate and dry weather and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes ... will continue to happen and we have to do everything we can to mitigate," he said.

"It's gonna cost a lot of money," he added. "This will be tens of billions."

Pimlott said about 8,000 firefighters are battling the blazes along with a variety of helicopters, air tankers, drones and other aircraft used to fight fighters. He said Washington, Oregon and Nevada fire departments were sending fire engines and other assistance.

California Highway Patrol has 112 personnel assigned to assist in traffic control, law enforcement and evacuations. Seven hundred National Guard soldiers and airmen were on duty with another 1,800 mobilized.

Some 4,400 people were in shelters Wednesday afternoon and 55,000 people were without power.

Officials estimate at least 3,500 homes and commercial structures have been destroyed by the fast-moving wildfires. All told, the fires covered more than 170,000 acres, including the 42,000-acre Atlas Fire in Napa County (2 percent contained) and more than 25,000-acre Tubbs Fire (3 percent contained) in Santa Rosa.

In Redwood Valley in Mendocino County, the fire was 5 percent contained over 29,500 acres.

New evacuations were ordered Tuesday night in Sonoma Valley and the Geyserville area, where residents were urged to leave.

"People were in bed, there was no time; some of the folks were sleeping at home in bed and had no idea because there was minutes -- seconds warning," Pimlott said in an earlier news conference.

"This is just pure devastation."

Officials discovered the bodies of Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara Rippey, 98, on Sunday in the ashes of their home in Napa County.

They celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary March 20, according to the Napa Valley Register.

"The caregiver called me and said that there was fire everywhere," their son, Chuck Rippey, told KNTV-TV on Tuesday. "I said just get those guys out on the street, and before she knew it, the roof was caving in and all that, so it was very fast. Very fast."

All schools in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley were canceled for the rest of the week, including classes at Sonoma Valley University.

The only fires that have been 100 percent contained so far were the Jones Lake Fire and Blue Fire.

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