The death toll in the wildfires roaring at high speeds across Northern California has reached 23, with 30,000 buildings and five vineyards destroyed.
Among the dead: a 100-year-old World War II veteran, Charlie Rippey, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara. News sources say the Rippeys were unable to evacuate quickly enough from the home they’d lived in for 40 years.
Authorities say the rapid movement of the fires is making it difficult to determine accurate injury and fatality counts. Winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour have contributed to the spread and speed of the fires.
Firefighters are reportedly battling more than a dozen large fires in seven counties including Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa, attempting to halt – or at least slow – the blazes that have charred more than 115,000 acres so far and sent people scrambling to safety. In addition to the thousands of structures that have been reduced to rubble, more than 94,000 customers are without power.
Residents described the scene as an “inferno.”
The cause of the fires is unknown, but the Santa Ana winds which helped make them worse is well known to Californians, especially at this time of year. The weather pattern of strong, low humidity downhill winds can exacerbate wildfires, especially under drought conditions.
The severity of the Northern California fires has captured most of the media attention, but a wildfire further south, in Orange County, is also causing massive destruction. It has already destroyed 24 homes and commercial structures and burned approximately 7,500 acres.