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Update October 16, 2017:    The death toll is now at least 41, following death of a water truck driver. 


By Miriam Raftery, East County Wildfire & Emergency Alerts

Photo, left: Courtesy of Cal Fire

October 12, 2017 (San Diego)—The complex of nearly two dozen firestorms raging across northern California have now collectively surpassed in deadliness the 2003 Cedar Fire, which killed 16 people in San Diego County. 

At least 31 people are now confirmed dead across northern California and the toll will likely climb higher, with hundreds of people still missing and dozens of official searchers combing the rubble of burned homes and businesses with dog teams, searching for bodies.

The current fires have destroyed over 3,500 homes, Cal Fire confirms, a sum that surpasses both the Cedar Fire and the 2007 firestorms here.

Thus far, the fires have torched over 191,000 acres—a devastating toll, though still less than San Diego County suffered alone in the Cedar Fire that charred 273,246 acres or the even larger fires in 2007 that burned over 300,000 acres in our county.  The 2007 firestorms in San Diego still hold the chilling record of most evacuations, at over half a million people.

Governor Jerry Brown has issued emergency declarations for Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa Nevada, Orange, Solano, Sonoma, and Yuba Counties.  The federal government has approved the Governor’s request for a Presidential major disaster declaration to support local firefighting efforts, yet still many of the fires are raging largely out of control, fueled by California’s infamous “devil winds.”

Overnight, the Napa Valley town of Calistoga was the latest to receive evacuation orders for the entire town.  Numerous wineries and vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma County have been destroyed or damaged.  Among those destroyed are  Signorello Estates and Paradise Ridge Wineries, as well as the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel.

(Photo, right, by Alpine resident Richard Edwords, who is driving a water truck in the Napa Valley fires).

In Sonoma County alone, more than 900 missing person reports were filed and about half remain missing, though many may be safe and simply unable to communicate due to downed communications.

One of the worst-hit areas was the city of Santa Rosa, where even seasoned firefighters voiced shock at numerous urban and suburban blocks totally leveled by the flames. Even big-box stores such as a K-Mart burned to the ground.  At the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rose, at least 100 manufactured homes burned, trapping some elderly residents.

The increased death toll includes eight from Mendocino County, where high winds have fire officials “deeply concerned,” the Sacramento Bee reports.

Safari West, a wildlife preserve, suffered damage but the owner left his own home to burn in order to successfully save all of the exotic animals.

The fires have caused unhealthy air not only in the areas burned, but as far as a hundred miles away.  Air quality in San Francisco is worse than Beijing, China, due to the thick smoke, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  Air quality is also poor in Anaheim, where a pall of orange smoke hangs over Disneyland, though firefighters are making good progress toward containing the Canyon 2 Complex fire there.

Causes of the multiple fires remain under investigation, though PG&E power lines may be responsible for some of the blazes, multiple media outlets report.

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