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Tuesday
Oct102017

Thousands flee, at least 17 killed as wildfires ravage northern California

iStock/Thinkstock(ANAHIEM, Calif.) --  Massive wildfires sweeping through parts of California have killed at least 17 people and damaged more than 2,000 residences and other buildings, according to authorities.

Firefighters were battling dozens of fires across multiple counties around the state as of late Monday night, authorities said. Intensified by strong winds, the fires charred about 90,000 acres of land, destroyed at least 1,500 buildings and forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate.

St. Joseph Health said about 170 patients have been treated, many for burns and smoke inhalation, at three of its hospitals, including two in Sonoma County, where at least seven people died of fire-related injuries. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said the number of fatalities could increase. Authorities have received more than 100 phone calls to report on people who were purportedly missing, according to one Sonoma County official.

Officials with the California Highway Patrol described one of the dead as an elderly woman who was blind and hard of hearing, according to ABC's San Francisco station KGO-TV. The woman was found dead in the driveway of her home in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, according to the officials, who suspected that she may have been trying to escape the flames when she she died.

Details on the other victims have not been released yet.

Two of the largest blazes, dubbed the Tubbs and Atlas Fires by authorities, burned a combined 52,000 acres of land in Sonoma and Napa counties.

In Anaheim, 1,000 firefighters were mobilized to fight a blaze that burned an estimated 6,000 acres and destroyed at least 24 homes and businesses. At least 3,000 residents were evacuated in and around Anaheim and more than 5,000 structures were threatened by the flames.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

With the flames sweeping through entire communities, some area hospitals have been evacuated. Evacuations were also issued for surrounding counties that are under threat, according to the Napa Valley Sheriff's Office.

Many residents have been warned not to return to their homes until further notice.

Witnesses in Fountain Grove area near Santa Rosa said the flames there were so intense they melted the glass off of car and liquefied aluminum objects.

Jeff Okrepkie, a resident of Santa Rosa, said he fled his home of five years, knowing that it could very well be leveled once he returned. He seemed to be braced for he worst.

"All that good stuff, I'm never going to see it again," Okrepkie told KGO-TV on Monday.

He said he and his wife tried their best to gather their most precious documents, photos and mementos, but it was impossible to grab everything in time.

Thirty-eight-year-old Mike Turpen said he was at a bar in the Glen Ellen area of Sonoma County when someone stormed in wearing a smoke mask and yelled "fire." He said he rushed through flames in his Ford pickup truck with hopes of saving his home.

"It was like Armageddon was on," Turpen told KGO. "Every branch of every tree was on fire," he said, recalling his drive home.

Turpen said his yard, like those surrounding it, was scorched and still flaming in some spots, but he said he managed to keep his home from burning down.

The causes of the fires are unknown.

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