Death toll hits 40 in California wildfires; thousands find homes destroyed

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Oct. 15, 2017 at 4:46 PM
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Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The death toll in the Northern California wildfires hit 40 as firefighters entered the second week of attempting to douse multiple blazes and residents returned to find nothing left to salvage from their homes.

Cal Fire reported Sunday nearly 11,000 firefighters "made good progress" in containing the 15 wildfires, which is one less than the day before. Because winds across Northern California were fairly light, the red flag warnings were lifted at 8 a.m.

On Saturday night, Sonoma County announced that its coroner had confirmed two more deaths, bringing the death toll there to 22.

Nearly 75,000 people -- down from 100,000 on Saturday -- have been evacuated from the fires that have scorched 217,566 acres and destroyed about 5,700 structures, Cal Fire said Sunday.

That includes several thousand homes, including in the wine country of Napa.

"You realize, you don't put your boots on and your gloves on and go sift through stuff. There's nothing to sift through," Janice Mathis told KOVR-TV. "The first thing we think of is we're fortunate."

She owned a three-bedroom home with her husband Bill.

More than 100 homes across this neighborhood near Silverado Resort in Napa burned down in the Atlas fire that killed two people.

The Silverado Resort escaped major damage.

Michaella Flores, who was uninjured in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, returned to Santa Rosa days later to find her home destroyed by fire.

"It's just a very helpless feeling," she said to CNN. "I just thought, well, I've been in these situations before. It shouldn't be a big deal. But when it's happening to you, it's a whole different realm."

Flores, a former firefighter and paramedic, said: "I don't sleep. I haven't had any time to process any of this."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is assessing damage, providing aid to local agencies and offering federal funding to residents affected by the fire.

The National Guard is helping the California Highway Patrol block the roads, as Caltrans crews in the hills work to remove debris and downed power lines, CHP Capt. Chris Childs said.

"We're going to be here for weeks," said Robert Vicham said to the Los Angeles Times as he controlled the traffic flow on a two-lane highway. "I'm 51 and been in California my whole life, and I've never seen a fire this bad."

Three fires have consumed more than 133,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. The Atlas fire in Napa and Solano counties had reached 51,057 acres and was 56 percent contained followed by the Nuns fire in Sonoma County that scorched 47,106 acres and was 25 percent contained, and the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa counties at 35,470 acres and 60 percent contained.

Although red flag warnings were across Northern California, they remain in South California where there are small fires.

And though the winds had died down and temperatures were hovering in the mid-80s Sunday, dry air will continue to ignite grass and vegetation into fuel.

National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said to the Los Angeles Time: "It's been drying out the mountains."

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