California wildfires reduce years-long dreams to embers

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Wildfires raging through California's wine country are growing in size and number, fueled by the return of high winds.

Alejandro Rodriguez had been evacuated from one tiny Sonoma Valley town, only to have deputies come to the neighborhood to where he had relocated and tell residents there to pack up and go.

The 22 fires, many out of control, spanned more than 265 square miles as the inferno entered its fourth day.

"The devastation is enormous", he said. "The wine industry is renowned for working together and never has that been more apparent than in these frightening times". The two deadliest fires - the Tubbs and Atlas fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties - moved so quickly, propelled by hurricane force winds, that they easily outmaneuvered firefighters.

FOX8 talked to firefighters who say conditions in the Triad are better than last year, meaning it's not as dry, but it's not enough for you to ignore preparing for a wildfire. That raises the statewide death total from 29 to 31. As the fires grow, officials voiced concern that separate blazes would merge into even larger infernos.

"Make no mistake", he added later, "this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event".

Over the past two years, he replaced the siding and installed a new air conditioner, stainless steel appliances, and new flooring. Countless emergency vehicles sped toward the flames, sirens blaring, as evacuees sped away.

Police pounded on his door in the mobile home park, telling him to evacuate.

Having just finished the Teanaway Fire northeast of Cle Elum on Tuesday, the 20-member Ahtanum hand crew left for Northern California early Thursday morning, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie. Until now, the efforts have focused on "life safety" rather than extinguishing the blazes, partly because the flames were shifting with winds and targeting communities without warning.

"From all of your northern neighbours, stay strong California, our thoughts are with you", said the Wine Institute in a release.

A Southern California wildfire that destroyed 14 buildings - most of them homes - was contained yesterday.

Fires were "burning faster than firefighters can run, in some situations", Emergency Operations Director Mark Ghilarducci said.