The chaotic, wind-blown firestorms in California claimed the life of a firefighter this week, the first to die in the line of duty, according to published news reports. Twenty people have been killed by the wildfires that have charred more than 660,000 acres — roughly the size of Rhode Island — and destroyed more than 2,600 homes.

Nearly 12,000 firefighters and support personnel are battling what Gov. Gray Davis said may be the costliest disaster California has ever faced. The state is spending an estimated $9 million a day fighting the wildfires. The total cost could reach $200 million, while the blazes take a $2 billion toll on the California economy, state officials said.

Some of the fires were believed set by arsonists; one was ignited by a lost hunter's signal fire.