California wildfires kill 21 and create boiling river of wine as they burn through vineyards 




 

Authorities fear the death toll from California's wild fires could rise rapidly from 21, as thousands of firefighters battle blazes engulfing the state's wine country.

Hundreds of people have been reported missing in fires that have destroyed more than 3500 homes and businesses.

In places the damage to the region's wineries has been so devastating that a boiling river of wine was spotted at the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa flowing beneath the smouldering ground where barrels have been incinerated.

Three days after the first fires were reported, the blazes continue to multiply in number. On Wednesday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said 22 wildfires were burning, up from 17 a day earlier.

Ken Pimlott, department chief, said the fires had burned through 265 square miles of ground parched from years of drought.

"We are literally looking at explosive vegetation," he said. "It is very dynamic. These fires are changing by the minute in many areas."

Entire residential neighbourhoods have been reduced to blackened rubble in parts of northern California as smoke cloaks the land and turns the sky orange.

The dead include a married couple of 75 years, who were found in the charred remains of their home.

Mike Rippey said his brother discovered the bodies of his 100-year-old father Charles, who appeared to be heading to the room of his 98-year-old mother Sara, when he was overcome by smoke and flames.

"My father certainly wouldn't have left her," he said in the ruins of their home in Napa, where they lived for 35 years.

The couple met in primary school in Wisconin and had been together ever since.

Mr Rippey, 71, said he and his four siblings could not imagine either parent living alone. "We knew there's no way they would ever be happy, whoever was the last one. So they went together, and that's the way it worked," he said.

Authorities ordered more evacuations for parts of Sonoma Valley on Wednesday after a blaze grew to 44 miles across.

The vast scale of the fires, problematic communications and chaotic evacuations meant the death toll would likely rise, according to Robert Giordano, Sonoma County sheriff.

"The devastation is enormous," he said. "We can't even get into most areas. I would expect the number to go up."

Jerry Brown, the governor, said 8000 firefighters had been deployed with more resources arriving form neighbouring states.

"We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over," he said, adding that climate change would make such disasters more common in the future.

Dry, windy weather is forecast for the next 24 hours, offering little in the way of respite. Gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and 10 percent humidity are expected throughout the rest of Wednesday and Thursday.

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