Record-breaking wildfires killed 15 people in California on Monday, sweeping across eight counties. It was one of the worst fires in the state’s history, with over 20,000 people evacuated and 10,000 buildings destroyed.
According to Jane Upton, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 15 separate fires caused the destruction of 1,500 homes and businesses, and burned 73,000 acres starting Sunday night. At that point, seven had been killed in Sonoma county, two in Napa, and one in Mendocino. Property damage was expected to worsen.
Governor Jerry Brown issued emergency proclamations in Sonoma, Napa, Butte, Yuba, Orange, Nevada, Lake, and Butte counties, warning that fires had affected critical infrastructure.
“This is really serious. It’s moving fast. The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse,” Brown told reporters. “It’s not under control by any means. But we’re on it in the best way we know how.”
The fires started on Sunday, spread by gusts of wind over 50 miles per hour. As of Monday, exactly what sparked the fires was still under investigation.
October often brings the worst fires to Northern California, with dry conditions and strong winds called north winds, or diablo winds.
Smoke traveled as far south as the Bay area, but the Marin County Fire Department said separate fires had not occurred there.
Parts of Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma, were evacuated, including about 130 patients from Santa Rosa medical center.
Speaking to the Guardian, Amy Head, fire captain spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said:
“We often have multiple fires going on, but the majority of them all started right around the same time period, same time of night – it’s unprecedented. I hate using that word because it’s been overused a lot lately because of how fires have been in the past few years, but it truly is – there’s just been a lot of destruction.”
By Tuesday, the Sonoma county sheriff’s department said 150 people were still missing, following the destruction of many homes.
Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that he had spoken to the governor, saying:
“The dryness of the climate, the strength of the winds – you all in California know much better than this midwesterner does. But I can assure you, as I did the governor, that the federal government stands ready to provide any and all assistance to the state of California.”