California Wildfires Claim At Least 15 Lives

Wednesday, October 11th 2017, 3:24 am
By: News On 6

Hundreds more firefighters and law enforcement officials headed Tuesday to Northern California to battle wildfires that have killed at least 15 people, including a 100-year-old man and his 98-year-old wife who were unable to escape their burning home.

"Armageddon... It's just gone -- everything's gone," Sonoma County resident Michael Everidge told CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

Jimmy Hendrix could barely recognize the street he lived on: "There's nothing but chimneys standing -- block after block, after block, after block -- nothing. All just down on the ground. It's just black -- the whole damn neighborhood is black."

Authorities hoped cooler weather and lighter winds would help crews get a handle on 17 separate fires, which are among the deadliest in California history.

"The weather has been working in our favor, but it doesn't mean it will stay that way," said Brad Alexander, a spokesman of the governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is visiting California, announced that President Trump approved a "major disaster declaration" for the state to assist in the response.

The California National Guard was tasked with bringing fuel to first responders battling the flames in Northern California because so many gas stations are without power.

Emergency operations director Mark Ghilarducci says several thousand people in Napa and Sonoma counties are still without power. Seventy-seven cellular sites were damaged or destroyed, also disrupting communication.

Major General David Baldwin of the California National Guard says 242 soldiers and airmen are assisting in responding to the fires in the two counties.

The extra firefighters came from throughout California and Nevada. The extra law enforcement officers will help with evacuations and guard against looting, Alexander said.

At least 100 people have been injured, and as many as 2,000 homes and businesses destroyed, according to authorities, who warned that all those figures were expected to climb in the coming days as more information is reported.

The fires that started Sunday night moved so quickly that thousands of people were forced to flee with only a few minutes of warning, and some did not get out in time. Among the victims were Charles and Sara Rippey, who were married for 75 years and lived at the Silverado Resort in Napa.

"The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other," their daughter, Ruby Gibney told Oakland television station KTVU.

CBS San Francisco reports the fires have consumed nearly 107,000 acres and turned whole neighborhoods into piles of ashes. 

More than 400 miles away, flames imperiled parts of Southern California, too. Thousands of people were displaced by a wildfire that destroyed or damaged 24 structures, including homes. 

Hot, dry Santa Ana winds swept fire along brushy outskirts of Orange County suburbs and equestrian properties southeast of Los Angeles. More than a dozen schools were closed.

The blaze, which disrupted major commuter routes, spread over nearly a dozen square miles in less than 24 hours as a squadron of helicopters and airplanes bombarded it with water and retardant, and an army of firefighters grew to 1,100 by Tuesday morning.

Firefighters made progress against the Canyon Fire 2 in Anaheim Hills, but authorities say evacuations will remain in effect, CBS Los Angeles reports. They hope to lift those orders by Tuesday evening.

That blaze burned at least 7,500 acres and is 25 percent contained, Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said.

CBS Los Angeles cites authorities as saying 14 structures were destroyed and 22 more were damaged by fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.