By JONATHAN J.
COOPER and JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press
SANTA ROSA, Calif.
(AP) — Wildfires tearing through California's wine country flared up
Wednesday, destroying hundreds more homes and other buildings and leading to
new evacuation orders as authorities raised the death toll to 17 and warned
that the number was expected to rise.
At least 3,500
homes and businesses have been destroyed since the wildfires started Sunday,
making them the third-most deadly and destructive blazes in state history.
Nearly three days
after the flames ignited in Northern California, firefighters were still
unable to gain control the blazes, which were growing in number. California
Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said 22
wildfires were burning, up from 17 on Tuesday.
Flames have raced
across the wine-growing region and the coastal beauty of Mendocino further
north, leaving little more than smoldering ashes and eye-stinging smoke in
their wake. Whole neighborhoods are gone, with only brick chimneys and
charred laundry machines to mark sites that were once family homes.
more evacuations for parts of Sonoma Valley after a blaze grew to 44 square
miles. Officials also cautioned that after a day of cooler weather and
calmer winds, dangerous gusts will return today.
Sheriff Robert Giordano said the reports of missing people jumped to over
600, up from about 200 a day earlier. But officials believe many of those
people will be found, saying that the chaotic evacuations and poor
communications over the past few days have made finding friends and family
Despite that, he expects the death toll will rise.
"The devastation is
enormous," he said. "We can't even get into most areas. I would expect the
number to go up."
Officials in Napa
County say almost half of the population of Calistoga, a town of 5,000
people, were ordered to evacuate before sunrise. Officials went block by
block, knocking on doors between 3 and 6 a.m. to warn people to leave, Napa
County Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
orders were also in place for Green Valley in Solano County.
Napa County Fire
Chief Barry Biermann said high winds and low humidity fueled the fires and
similar conditions were expected again.
"Yesterday was a
very aggressive day for fire behavior with some rapid expansion for fires,"
he said at a news conference. "We are expecting some extreme fire behavior"
In Southern California, cooler weather and moist ocean air helped
firefighters gain ground against a wildfire that has scorched more than a
dozen square miles.
Orange County Fire
Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said the blaze was nearly halfway surrounded
and full containment was expected by Saturday, but another round of gusty
winds and low humidity levels could arrive late Thursday.