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Windy Conditions Could Impact Already Deadly Fires

Ben Margot / AP

Smoke rises from a wildfire on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 near Calistoga, Calif.

Ben Margot / AP

UPDATE 9:09 p.m.: (AP) - Authorities have confirmed two more deaths from Northern California's wildfires, taking the total to 23.

The sheriff's office in Sonoma County, where most of the deaths have occurred, said Wednesday night that the toll there has reached 13. The other 10 deaths are dispersed across three other counties.

No details have been released on the two newly confirmed dead.

The massive complex of blazes has burned 265 square miles since breaking out almost simultaneously on Sunday night.

They have destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

At least 180 people are injured and hundreds have been reported missing.

UPDATE 4:14 p.m.: The relief for those on the front lines of the wildfires in Northern California has been a short one.

The fires already rank near the deadliest in state history, and CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott said it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

"You’re seeing they’re growing 30 or 40,000 acres sometimes at night," Pimlott said. "It’s just going to depend on the wind, the weather conditions, if it runs into fuel breaks. But you can anticipate significant growth today, tomorrow and maybe into the weekend."

The agency is concerned several fires could merge together into one long block of flame. But one positive note is that after days of uncontrolled burning, responders have begun to achieve 2 or 3 percent containment on most of the fires.

While updated size and containment figures were not available for the Wind Complex Fire affecting Butte, Nevada, and Yuba counties, Pimlott said he was "very happy" with the progress crews made Tuesday.

The weather outlook over the next few days presents challenges. Winds that died down Tuesday and Wednesday morning are kicking back up. 

National Weather Service Meteorologist Eric Kurth said the dry north winds should calm down again tomorrow, but they're not going away.

"We may be seeing this pick up again, maybe Friday night-Saturday," Kurth said. "We're looking more closely at that. But it doesn't look like we're going to get out of this pattern in the short term at least."

The winds aren't expected to approach the speed that pushed flames out of control on Sunday night and Monday. In most fire areas wind speeds peaked around 50 miles an hour, while approaching 80 miles an hour over the canyons in the North Bay.

UPDATE 11:58 a.m.: Officials now say 21 people have died in the wildfires raging throughout Northern California.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott gave an updated death toll Wednesday, calling the series of wildfires in wine country "a serious, critical, catastrophic event."

He says 8,000 firefighters are focusing on protecting lives and property as they battle the flames chewing through critically dry vegetation.

"We have returned to red flag conditions, and winds are surfacing out of the north at 40 mph," Pimlott said. "We are still impacted by five years of drought. The effects of the rainfall this winter are gone."

Overall fires have burned 170,000 acres throughout the state.

Pimlott said while firefighters are still working to contain the fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, he's "very happy" with the progress being made on fires in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties.

Cal OES officials said there has been progress bringing communications back to the Napa and Sonoma areas. At its peak, there were 77 major cell sites down. Since then 64 of those 77 have been restored, with Downtown Napa and parts of Sonoma County starting to get coverage back.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: California Gov. Jerry Brown will join the daily update from Cal OES on the wildfires burning throughout the state. Watch live here:

UPDATE 11:08 a.m.: The Yuba County Sheriff's Office has confirmed a second death related to the Cascade Fire. That brings the total for all Northern California fires to 18.

UPDATE 10:15 a.m.: (AP) - A California fire official says at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed by wildfires burning in Northern California wine country.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant says fire activity increased significantly overnight, destroying more buildings and leading to new mandatory evacuations in several areas.

Berlant said Wednesday that 22 wildfires are burning in Northern California, up from 17 on Tuesday.

Officials in Napa County say almost half of the population of Calistoga, a town of 5,000 people, has been ordered to evacuate. New evacuation orders are also in place for Green Valley in Solano County.

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


Fire Numbers 

Firefighters are continuing to reinforce and build containment lines around fires in Yuba and Nevada counties, and other Northern California regions.

The Cascade Fire burning 20 miles northeast of Yuba City is at 12,349 acres and is 20 percent contained.

The La Porte Fire near Bangor is at 3,750 acres and 15 percent contained.

The Lobo Fire burning just west of Grass Valley is at 857 acres and is 30 percent contained.

The Honey Fire in Butte County is 90 acres and 40 percent contained.

The Cherokee Fire near Oroville is at 8,360 acres and 45 percent containement.

The Atlas Fire south of Lake Berryessa in Napa County has burned 42,349 acres and is 3 percent contained. The Nuns Fire in Sonoma County is burning 7,626 acres with 2 percent containment. The Tubbs Fire is at 27,363 acres and 10 percent contained.

Mandatory evacuations are still in effect in some areas, while others including Lake Wildwood have been reduced to advisory evacuations, allowing residents to enter.

Click here for more information on evacuations, resources and advisories. 

More on air quality health advisories here.

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