California wildfires disaster could 'get worse before it gets better'

California wildfire map from Cal Fire

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said hundreds of people were still reported missing.

Police blocked off many roads and prevented people from going into the destroyed neighborhoods, where some people said they no longer could recognize streets and surroundings.

"This to me is like a nuclear bomb went off", Larson said near his home.

At least seven people died in the winemaking region of Sonoma, while two died in neighbouring Napa and another was killed in a blaze further north.

After a day of cooler weather and calmer winds, officials say low moisture and unsafe gusty winds will return to the region Wednesday afternoon, complicating firefighters' efforts.

He said his department was busy focussing on saving lives and containing the fires, but added the chance of the fires having been caused by lightning was "fairly minimal". "Hopefully, the answer is yes".

"This is similar to what you see in Beijing, China, in bad air days there", said Tom Flannigan, spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "Here we have interpretation of official comments provided by a woman who can read sign language for the deaf relayed to people whose hearing is okay", Howard wrote.

"We can only get so many places and we have only so many people to work on so many things", he said. Some 4,000 people are battling the fires, including crews from Nevada and the U.S. Forest Service.

Those words proved prescient as the death total rose to 21 known casualties Wednesday morning, a figure Pimlott described as "fluid" due to the number of missing or unaccounted for persons in a region savaged by a series of fires that sparked around the same time Sunday night.

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A ring of flames closed around the Sacramento region this week, as almost two dozen wind-whipped wildfires stampeded across Northern California and left public safety officials searching for new superlatives to describe a fearsome trend.

"Understand these fires started after 10 p.m. around midnight on a Sunday night", Pimlott said when reporters asked about this issue Tuesday.

It was unclear how numerous missing might be fire victims rather than evacuees who merely failed to check in with authorities.

"These embers can twist and turn and wind up in other areas that might not be in the direction of the winds", Garcia said.

Dozens of names are on a dry erase board at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, which the Red Cross had turned into an evacuation centre with dormitories, cold showers and three meals a day.

Among those who lost their homes are Raiders legend Cliff Branch, who said he fled his Santa Rosa house at 1:45 a.m. Monday after an early-morning call from his lawyer warning him the fire was "raging like Usain Bolt". "I don't know how effective that was". "We've had hurricanes three weeks in a row, an quake in Mexico City, and then this fire".

"The spread of the fire and predictions on the wind and seeing what we've seen had happen throughout our neighboring communities, obviously want to absolutely err on the side of caution here", he said.

As he surveyed the damage, he marveled how some of his neighbors' homes survived.

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