California wildfire death toll reaches 17

Washington, Oct 11: Wildfires raging across Northern California have killed at least 17 people as hundreds of firefighters battle the flames and keep thousands of people away from the blaze's path.

Most of the fires were ignited on Sunday, driven by winds of more than 50 mph and dry conditions. With no rain in the forecast this week and a chance of gusts of 35 to 40 mph on Wednesday, forecasters said the weather will create challenges for firefighters, CNN reported.

More than 20,000 people had been ordered to evacuate as of Tuesday night and authorities were encouraging others to pack "ready-to-go bags" with documents and medicines, in case they had to flee the fast-spreading flames on a moment's notice.

"I think it would be one of the worst disasters in California history," Captain Mike Palacio with the California Highway Patrol said at a community meeting.

Wildfires burned 115,000 acres in California. The largest fires were burning in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, filling the picturesque landscape of the state's wine country with charred rubble and clouds of smoke.

About 28,000 customers had no access to gas service in Santa Rosa, Windsor, Yountville, Napa, and Kenwood, said Shirlee Zane, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

The White House said President Donald Trump signed a major disaster declaration and fire management assistance grants for the state.

"The loss of homes and burning of precious land is heartbreaking, but the loss of life is truly devastating," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

At least 17 people died since Sunday night. A total of 11 people died in Sonoma County, officials said.

Two of those who died were in Napa County, county spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said. More than 100 people were being treated at Napa- and Sonoma-area hospitals for fire-related injuries or health issues, including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

Families were frantically searching for more than 180 people who had been reported missing.

The biggest blaze, the Tubbs fire, reduced cars and homes into burnt piles of ash and rubble in Santa Rosa, a city 50 miles northwest of San Francisco. It also destroyed at least 571 structures, officials said, making it one of the top 15 most destructive fires in recorded California history.

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