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Death Toll From California Fires Now At 42, Firefighters Report Significant Progress

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Berkeley firefighter Matt George picks through the ash of a Santa Rosa neighborhood looking for smoldering materials. "It's unbelievable, the destruction," he says.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 4:40 p.m.: (AP) - California fire officials have reported significant progress on containing wildfires that have ravaged parts of Northern California.

CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Bret Gouvea told a news conference that firefighters were getting "good containment" around the blazes and have "stopped the forward progress and movement of all these fires."

The fires that swept through parts of seven counties starting Oct. 8 were the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California history. At least 42 people died, 6,000 homes were lost, and at the height of the blazes about 100,000 people were evacuated.

About 22,000 people remain under evacuation orders.

UPDATE 10:50 a.m.: Light rain forecast in Northern California is expected to help firefighters battling the remains of wildfires.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said about a tenth of an inch of rain is expected Thursday night.

He said it won't be enough to drench fires, but the precipitation combined with moist winds should help.

The fires were fed by dry winds after starting Oct. 8.

The blazes have killed at least 42 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

UPDATE 10:05 a.m.: A spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says he doesn't expect the death toll to go much higher than 23 in the wine country county devastated by Northern California wildfires.

At least 42 people have died in wildfires that started Oct. 8, most of them in Sonoma County.

Sgt. Spencer Crum said Wednesday that the "number of dead people we're finding has really slowed down" and that many people listed as missing have been located safely.

The death toll in Sonoma County increased from 22 to 23 on Wednesday after searchers found a body in the debris of a burned house in Santa Rosa. The last body was found Saturday.

Half of the 53 missing person reports are for homeless people, and Crum doesn't believe they perished in fires because they did not live in areas hardest hit by fire. He said many missing person reports are made by people who haven't seen the individual in years but thinks that person was last in Sonoma County.

Napa County reported Tuesday that eight people remained on its missing person list.

Elsewhere in the state, a sixth firefighter has sustained minor injuries battling a blaze in California's Santa Cruz mountains south of the wildfires that have been burning for more than a week in wine country.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Angela Bernheisel said Wednesday the firefighter is being treated for second-degree burns to his hands.

Crews have been fighting the wildfire, which sparked Monday night, sending smoke into the coastal beach town of Santa Cruz.

The wildfire has grown from 125 to 270 acres and four structures have been destroyed. About 150 homes are threatened and residents have been evacuated.

The rough mountain landscape has proved a challenge and contributed to firefighter injuries.

A firefighter fell down a steep ravine and fractured his wrist while three others slipped but were otherwise unharmed. An inmate firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation.


(AP) - The death toll from Northern California's destructive wildfires is at 42 after Sonoma County found the remains of another person.

Misti Harris, a spokeswoman for Sonoma County, says the department is working on identifying the person. Sonoma County now has 23 dead.

About 60 people remain unaccounted for in Sonoma and Napa counties as of Tuesday. Authorities say they are conducting targeted searches for victims and the work is slow-going.

Authorities say fire crews made overnight progress battling blazes in Northern California's wine country, helped by moderate weather and lack of wind.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, says crews did controlled burns to wipe out fuel needed by wildfires to spread.

Tens of thousands of evacuees are returning to their homes, although more than 30,000 were evacuated as of Tuesday morning. That number is down considerably from Saturday when an estimated 100,000 people had been forced out of their homes.

The wind-whipped fires that started Oct. 8 swept through parts of seven counties, becoming the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California history. At least 6,000 homes were destroyed.


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