News World Death toll rises as California bushfires ravage wine country

Death toll rises as California bushfires ravage wine country

California fire
Robyn and Daniel Pellegrini search for belongings in the ashes of their home that was destroyed by fire in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, California. Photo: AP
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Fast-moving wildfires burning across northern California’s wine country have claimed at least 15 lives and destroyed an estimated 2000 homes and commercial buildings.

Flames have spread across more than 46,500 hectares since the fires broke out on Sunday but firefighters are taking advantage of cooler temperatures, decreased winds and coastal fog to try to make headway against the fires.

North of San Francisco, the blazes reduced houses to ashes in several communities.

The city of Santa Rosa was particularly hard hit by the so-called Tubbs Fire, which damaged a Hilton hotel and destroyed a mobile home park.

The flames were fanned by high temperatures and dry conditions, displacing tens of thousands of residents and forcing schools and at least two hospitals in Sonoma County to close.

Steve Crawford, a CalFire operations chief, said at a briefing for law enforcement and utility officials on Tuesday morning that a change in the weather could help firefighters.

“We need to jump on it and take advantage of this lull before any other wind jumps up,” Crawford said.

“There’s a lot of devastation out there, people running around who just lost everything.”

In the celebrated wine country north of San Francisco, Sonoma County bore the brunt of the fatalities, with 13 of the deaths in California wine country.

Fires killed a total of 15 people statewide, according to CalFire officials.

More than 91,000 homes and businesses served by Pacific Gas and Electric were without power, with most of those customers in Northern California’s Sonoma and Napa counties, and gas was shut off to 28,000 customers, representatives for the utility company said.

California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and five other counties.