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Wine country wildfires: 11 now dead, 150 missing as crews struggle for control

Oct. 10 (UPI) — Fire crews are working feverishly Tuesday to contain a series of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country that have so far caused the deaths of 11 people and led to mass evacuations.

Fifteen separate fires are burning in the region — accelerated by dry conditions and high winds. They have closed schools and forced evacuations in Napa and Sonoma counties, authorities said.

More than 120,000 acres have burned and at least 1,500 homes and other structures burned, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said. At least 150 people are unaccounted for, ABC News reported Tuesday. A fire station in Santa Rosa was among the buildings burned.

The fires inside the eight-county area are only 10 percent contained, at best, Cal Fire said. The largest, the Atlas Fire in Napa County and the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, together consumed 52,000 acres by Tuesday. About 30 people were rescued from Atlas Peak, a 1,700-foot tall mountain — many of them laborers working to complete the autumn grape harvest.

Officials said seven deaths occurred in Sonoma County, two in Napa County and one in Mendocino County. It wasn’t immediately clear where or how the 11th person died. Thousands of evacuees are now in temporary shelters.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. He later added Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties. Humboldt, Shasta and Calaveras County reported wildfires as well.

Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Sacramento that the federal government is “ready to provide any and all assistance.”

The California Highway Patrol said it’s using helicopters to help evacuate residents. In some areas, crews landed aircraft and went door-to-door to advise residents lacking working telephones or cellphones, of the evacuation. Elsewhere, emergency workers used text messages to advise residents to evacuate.

The local wine industry is a $13 billion business that contributes over $50 billion to the national economy, the Napa Valley Vintners Association said.

Throughout Napa County, occasional loud booms could be heard, a sign that gas lines and propane tanks were exploding.

Other wildfires are also burning elsewhere in California.

About 6,000 acres have been torched and at least 24 homes and businesses were destroyed in Anaheim, near Los Angeles, hundreds of miles south of the wine country fires. At least 3,000 residents were evacuated and about 1,000 firefighters are involved in fighting that fire, ABC News reported.

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