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Wildfires Tear Through California, Many Dead

CBS News: Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through California wine country Monday, killing at least 10 people, destroying 1,500 homes and businesses and sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighborhoods.

As he fled through the ember-strewn streets of his neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Jeff Okrepkie knew it was probably the last time he would see his home of the past five years standing.

His worst fears were confirmed Monday morning, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smoldering heap of burnt metal and debris.

“We live in the valley, where it’s concrete and strip malls and hotels and supermarkets,” Okrepkie said. “The last thing you think is a forest fire is going to come and wipe us out.”

At least 10 people died and two were seriously injured in the blazes that started on Sunday, fire officials said.

The flames were burning “at explosive rates” because of 50 mph winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

California’s fire chief says at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed, CBS San Francisco reports. He said numerous people have been injured and some residents are currently missing.

Cal Fire said 15 large fires are burning, and the flames have scorched more than 73,000 acres as of 1:30 p.m. PT Monday in Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Nevada, Calaveras and Mendocino counties.

An estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated.

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties due to the wildfires.

The Atlas Peak fire was the largest, quickly growing to more than 8,000 acres near Napa.

Meanwhile, the fire that started on Tubbs Lane near Calistoga had grown to 35,000 acres and has spread into Sonoma County and parts of Santa Rosa, CBS San Franciso reported.

Cal Fire said the Redwood Fire in Mendocino was at 4,500 acres, the Patrick Fire in Napa was at 100 acres and Nuns Fire in Sonoma County was at 300 acres.

The fires had stretched Sonoma and Napa counties’ firefighting resources to the breaking point. A call for mutual aid was issued to other Bay Area fire departments.

California Highway Patrol officials said their Golden Gate Division Air Operations helicopter crews have rescued 42 people, ranging in age from 5 to 91 years old, in the various fires from late Sunday night to midday Monday, CBS San Francisco reported.

The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for the Bay Area early Sunday, predicting gusty winds and dry conditions. Gusts were predicted to be in the 30 mph range in the area of the fires.

The rapidly moving Atlas Peak fire was visible throughout Napa Valley, heavy smoke was draping over the region. Cal Fire said the blaze broke out at 9:50 p.m.

Authorities said the flames moved quickly toward the Silverado Trail — an area dotted with homes and wineries. Officials said the Silverado Country Club — site of this week’s PGA Tour tournament — was evacuated.

Flames were also burning near the Domaine Carneros winery.

Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said there was no containment of Atlas Peak fire overnight, with winds blowing at 28 mph and the humidity at just 12 percent.

“Very, very volatile fire conditions,” McLean said.

The Napa Valley Register was reporting that authorities were going house to house just north of Silverado Resort urging residents to leave. The paper said there were reports of at least three structures burning on Atlas Peak.

Napa officials said two evacuation centers had been opened — at the Crosswalk Community Church on First Street and at the Napa County Fairgrounds. In Calistoga, an evacuation center was opened at the Calistoga Fairgrounds.

Officials with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said at a press conference that roughly 45,000 residents are currently without power in Napa and Sonoma counties.

A large plume of smoke from the fire drifted as far south as San Francisco and the East Bay, where residents were reporting the strong smell of smoke in the air.

The massive fire rekindled memories for longtime Napa Valley residents of the 1981 Atlas Peak wildfire. In that blaze, 23,000 acres were burned, $36 million was done in damage, 65 structures were destroyed and 11 people were injured.

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