California wildfires deadliest in state's history as death toll climbs
Firefighters gained ground on Thursday against wildfires that have killed at least 31 people in Northern California and left hundreds missing in the chaos of mass evacuations in the heart of the state's wine country.
The death toll, revised upward by eight on Thursday, marked the greatest loss of life from a single California wildfire event in recorded state history, two more than the 29 people killed by the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.
With 3,500 homes and businesses incinerated, the so-called North Bay fires also rank among the most destructive.
The flames have scorched more than 190,000 acres (77,000 hectares), an area nearly the size of New York City, reducing whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa to ash and smoldering ruins dotted with charred trees and burned-out cars.
The official cause of the disaster was under investigation, but officials said power lines toppled by gale-force winds on Sunday night may have sparked the conflagration.
A resurgence of extreme wind conditions that had been forecast for Wednesday night and early Thursday failed to materialize, giving fire crews a chance to start carving containment lines.
But fierce winds were expected to return as early as Friday night, and a force of 8,000 firefighters was racing to reinforce and extend buffer lines across Northern California before then.
Despite progress, fire crews remained "a long way from being out of the woods," Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told reporters in Sacramento, the state capital.
Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, added: "We are not even close to being out of this emergency."