Jeff Chiu / AP
More than 1,500 homes and commercial structures were destroyed, including in Santa Rosa, a city of more than 167,000. Whole neighborhoods were leveled by the fire and reduced to ashes.
Brian Gilman, a resident of Santa Rosa, lost nearly everything. In the rubble, he found his mother’s ruby ring.
“Everything else is devastated,” he said. “But the things that she asked for, amazingly, are still here.”
Officials said they were still concerned about safety and urged residents not to try to return to their homes.
Sonoma County officials have received some 240 missing-persons reports, Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters, and 57 of those people have been located as of Tuesday afternoon.
Among those killed were an 100-year-old, Charlie Rippey, a World War II veteran, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara, in Napa County. A son told NBC Bay Area that his parents’ caregiver was unable to escort them to safety before the roof caved in.
“All the windows started to explode,” Chuck Rippey said. “Smoke and heat, all that everywhere. And she just couldn’t find ’em.”
John Bailey, a professor at Oregon State University’s college of forestry, said a perfect storm has allowed for these intense fires to ravage Northern California.
“Hot dry conditions, and then throwing in winds, really expands burnability,” he said, adding, “We just have an unprecedented amount of fuel on our landscapes.”
The fires are collectively
among the deadliest in the state’s history. The last single fire to see as many deaths was San Diego County’s Cedar Fire in October 2003, which destroyed 2,200 homes and was started accidentally by a hunter.
Authorities said it’s too soon to say the origins of these latest blazes. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to the state’s request for federal funds to help with the destruction from the fires.