Killer wildfires continue to rage in California’s wine country, with 23 dead and hundreds missing

SANTA ROSA, Oct 12: The wind known as the Diablo has picked up again, the air is dry, there is no rain in sight and the killer wildfires ravaging Northern California’s wine country remained almost completely uncontained Thursday morning. Officials warned that some of the big fires could merge, even as new blazes erupted, and thousands of people have been told to prepare to leave their homes — if they haven’t already.
Evacuations continue, including one order covering the entire city of Calistoga in Napa County.
In neighboring Sonoma County, where the menacing arc of flames has done the most damage, Geyserville residents were urged to leave Wednesday evening; two hours later, another evacuation order was issued in the Sonoma Valley. “This is a serious, critical, catastrophic event,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said. At least 23 people have been killed by the fires in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Yuba counties, where 3,500 homes and businesses had been burned at last count. Officials expect the death toll to rise — perhaps significantly — when officers begin going into the “hot zones” that were immolated in the firestorm. “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.” Amid these grim bulletins, the huge utility company PG&E acknowledged that the extreme winds late Sunday and early Monday had knocked trees into power lines in conditions conducive to wildfires. “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 reported on a possible link between the wildfires and the power grid. (Agencies)