The toll of property losses from a deadly Northern California wildfire, the most destructive this year in the western US, climbed to at least 585 homes along with hundreds of other structures which have gone up in flames.The latest tally, up from Monday’s estimate of 400 homes razed, came as firefighters began to gain ground against the blaze, which erupted on Saturday and quickly raced through several communities in the hills north of Napa County’s wine-producing region.Thousands of residents remained displaced by evacuations, while the blaze, dubbed the Valley Fire, still posed a potential threat to some 9,000 buildings in the fire zone, roughly 80km west of Sacramento, the state capital.But California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Doug Pittman said that the fire’s latest advance has been into the hillsides and mountains away from heavily populated areas.
The blaze had devoured 67,000 acres of timber, brush and grass left parched by four years of drought and weeks of a extreme summer heat.But containment of the fire, a measure of how much of its perimeter has been enclosed within buffer lines carved through vegetation by ground crews to prevent its spread, stood at 15 per cent, up from 10pc on Monday, Cal Fire said.
Temperatures have also cooled and winds have eased since the fire’s peak on Saturday and early Sunday, when flames advanced unchecked over 40,000 acres in just 12 hours.The speed of the blaze caught area residents and authorities off-guard, forcing many to flee in chaotic evacuations through gauntlets of fire as surrounding houses and trees went up in flames around them.
One elderly, disabled woman who was unable to leave her home, died as flames consumed her dwelling on Saturday evening, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department said.Pittman said authorities were bracing for the prospect of finding additional victims as damage-assessment teams comb through the hard-hit communities of Middletown, Cobb, Hidden Valley Lake and the Harbin Hot Springs resort.
“Is there the possibility that we’ll run into more people who didn’t get out in time? Absolutely,” Pittman said.Four firefighters were admitted to hospital with burns they suffered in the early hours of the blaze. More than 2,300 personnel were on the fire lines, Cal Fire said.The 585 homes known to have been destroyed represents the greatest property loss from a single wildfire among the scores of conflagrations that have ravaged the drought-stricken US West so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise.