After slackening earlier in the week, the dry, nearly hurricane-force winds that have been fanning the flames in Northern California picked up again overnight, revitalizing what some are already describing as the most devastating wildfires in the state’s modern history.
As of Thursday morning, 23 people have been confirmed dead in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Yuba counties. Another 200 are missing. Fires have swallowed more than 3,500 homes and businesses over more than 170,000 acres. And the state’s emergency shelters are rapidly approaching their limits as more than 25,000 people have fled with more than 4,000 staying in the shelters, according to the Washington Post.
The death toll is expected to rise significantly as officers reenter the “hot zones” that were totally destroyed by the fires.
“We can’t even get into most of the areas,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said. “When we start doing searches, I expect that number to go up.”
Destroyed residential neighborhood in Santa Rosa.
“The historic wind event that swept across PG&E’s service area late Sunday and early Monday packed hurricane-strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases,” said Ari Vanrenen, a PG&E spokeswoman, in a statement released after the San Jose Mercury News first revealed a possible link between the wildfires and downed power lines.
“These destructive winds, along with millions of trees weakened by years of drought and recent renewed vegetation growth from winter storms, all contributed to some trees, branches and debris impacting our electric lines across the North Bay,” she said.
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