Latest on Northern California Wildfires: At Least 35 Dead, 90K Left Homeless

Sean Breslin
Published: October 13, 2017

At least 35 people have died in what has been the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, and officials warned the toll could climb.

The scale of the disaster also became clearer Friday as authorities said the fires had chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, the Associated Press is reporting.

But a fifth day of desperate firefighting brought a glimmer of hope as crews battling the flames reported their first progress toward containing the massive blazes.

(MORE: Dozens of Firefighters Continue Battle After Their Homes Were Destroyed)

"The emergency is not over, and we continue to work at it, but we are seeing some great progress," said the state's emergency operations director, Mark Ghilarducci.

Over the past 24 hours, crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from as far away as Canada and Australia.

The Northern California infernos have killed more people than any single fire in state history, the AP reported. Officials originally cited the 1991 Oakland Hills fire as the deadliest single fire in California history, but it was actually the 1933 Griffith Park fire, which killed 29 people, that was the deadliest.

Officials searching were searching burned areas of Sonoma and Napa counties with cadaver dogs Thursday night when they recovered more bodies, said Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano.

It's a forbidding process. In some cases, serial numbers on medical implants have been used to identify remains, the Associated Press reported.

"We have found bodies almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones," Giordano said.

With hundreds of people still missing, Giordano said more victims are likely.

The Sonoma County Coroner's Office provided a list of the deceased whose next of kin have been notified:

  • Carol Collins-Swasey, 76, Santa Rosa
  • Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, Santa Rosa
  • Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, Santa Rosa
  • Suiko Grant, 75, Santa Rosa
  • Donna Mae Halbur, 80, Larkfield (Santa Rosa)
  • Leroy Peter Halbur, 80, Larkfield (Santa Rosa)
  • Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, Santa Rosa
  • Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, Apple Valley
  • Michael John Dornbach, 57, Calistoga
  • Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67, Santa Rosa
  • Linda Tunis, 69, Santa Rosa
  • Christina Hanson, 27, Santa Rosa

In Santa Rosa, thousands of structures were destroyed, from mansions to middle-income homes to trailer parks.

"The fire did not discriminate," Santa Rosa mayor Chris Coursey told the Los Angeles Times.

Several deadly wildfires were sparked at virtually the same time, most of which started in the region's wine country, on Sunday night. The counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Yuba, Nevada, Butte and Orange have been affected.

The AP reported that some of the state's sites most popular with tourists, Sonoma and Calistoga in Napa Valley, were "ghost towns populated only by fire crews trying to stop the advancing infernos."

(PHOTOS: Aerial Images of Neighborhoods Destroyed by Fires)

Nearly 400 people are still missing in Sonoma County as firefighters battle the 54-square-mile Tubbs fire. The blaze is just one of 17 wildfires burning through California, fueled by the return of strong winds. As of Friday morning, it was 25 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

"Make no mistake, this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event," said Ken Pimlott, chief of the department.

The largest of the Northern California fires, the Atlas fire, is burning in Napa and Solano counties. It grew rapidly again overnight Thursday and has burned at least 75 square miles, Cal Fire said, but containment also grew from 3 percent Thursday to 27 percent Friday morning.

The series of fires is already among the worst in California history, and Pimlott says the situation is "going to continue to get worse before it gets better."

Firefighters can't expect much help from the weather, as conditions are expected to remain windy through the weekend, said weather.com meteorologist Linda Lam.

Crews have made little headway on the fires, which turned entire Northern California neighborhoods to ash and have left at least 180 people injured.

(MORE: Why California's Wildfires Are Worse in the Fall Months)

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office has confirmed 18 fire-related deaths in the Tubbs fire. Officials in Mendocino County have confirmed eight deaths there in connection with the Redwood Complex of fires.

Three of the victims in Mendocino County have been identified, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: Kai Logan Shepherd, 14, Roy Howard Bowman, 87 and Irma Elsie Bowman, 88.

14-year-old Kai Shepherd, left, was killed by the Redwood Complex of fires. The boy's parents and sister were badly burned but survived.
(Irma Muniz via AP)

Four people have died in Yuba County in the Cascade fire, and two deaths were reported in Napa County, blamed on the Atlas fire. The two deaths in the Atlas fire were identified as Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara, 98.

Early Friday morning, evacuations were advised, though not ordered, for areas west of Highway 29 between Oakville Grade and Rutherford Road in Napa County, the San Francisco Chronicle also reported.

The Sonoma Sheriff's Office expanded mandatory evacuation orders Thursday evening.

On Thursday morning, authorities strongly encouraged residents to evacuate from the north side of Sonoma and in most of Boyes Hot Springs.

Authorities also ordered all residents of Calistoga to evacuate Wednesday. Earlier, officials went through the town of 5,000 people, knocking on doors to warn about 2,000 of them to leave.

(MORE: Couple Survives Wildfire by Hiding in Swimming Pool)

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office also issued mandatory evacuations in Geyserville, a small town of about 900 people.

An overturned car sits in front of homes that were destroyed by the Tubbs fire on Oct. 12, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

More than 9,000 firefighters and other personnel were battling the blazes and more resources were pouring in from Oregon, Nevada, Washington and Arizona.

"There was no wind, then there would be a rush of wind and it would stop," resident Ken Moholt-Siebert told the L.A. Times. "Then there would be another gust from a different direction. The flames wrapped around us. I was just being pelted with all this smoke and embers. It was just really fast."

The L.A. Times said entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa were leveled by the conflagration, and the city’s new fire station, Fire Station 5, was destroyed. The fire also burned Santa Rosa’s historic round barn, the city's K-mart, the Santa Rosa Hilton Sonoma Hotel and destroyed homes at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park.

"It’s real bad," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville told the L.A. Times. "This is an example of nature in control, and we are doing what we can, but we’re not being that effective at stopping the fire."

Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the fires but said it may be weeks before the origins are determined. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Janet Upton told the Associated Press downed power lines could to blame for starting some or all of these blazes, or they might have been sparked some other way.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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