Fire Weather to Persist as Crews Battle California Blazes

Fire Weather to Persist as Crews Battle California Blazes

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SONOMA, Calif. — Weather conditions fueling mammoth wildfires in Northern California that have killed at least 23 people will not let up for days, and fire officials warned Wednesday that the emergency will get worse before it gets better.

The coroner’s office in Sonoma County reported two more deaths Wednesday night, raising the numbers of people killed there to 13 and to 23 statewide.

“You all know the weather conditions — we’re going to see these conditions continue for the next several days, minimum,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said at a news conference in Sonoma County, where most of the deaths have occurred. “And we’re planning for that, we’re staffing for that. But it’s going to be a long haul.”

Firefighters in California are battling 22 large fires, which have burned more than 170,000 acres in the last two days and destroyed an estimated 3,500 structures. But the focus is on two large fire complexes burning in Sonoma and Napa counties, Pimlott said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said authorities were still looking for 285 people reported missing. Of 600 people reported missing, 315 have been found safe, he said.

Chris Benziger of Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County was among those who fled for their lives ahead of the fire. He and his family left their home in Glen Ellen after the so-called Nuns Fire erupted Sunday. The home was destroyed, but the winery a few miles away was safe.

“We were so lucky to escape with our lives,” Benziger, who returned to find his home destroyed Tuesday, said in a phone interview. “The fire, it started in Nuns Canyon, not even a quarter-mile from our house. so we had absolutely no warning.”

Photos: From Above, California Wine Town an Ashy Wasteland

Benziger said his family was in bed at around 11:30 p.m. Sunday “and our house was shaking from the wind.”

“You could hear branches breaking,” he said. He heard a yell and smelled smoke, and “I went to the window, and that’s when I saw the glow.”

“I got everyone up and said, ‘We’ve got to evacuate, we’ve got to get out of here.'” Benziger said.




Image: Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa

Fire damage in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, on Wednesday.