In California, the death toll from unprecedented wildfires has risen to at least 42, with over 400 more missing, as firefighters continue to battle 15 major blazes across the state. At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 people still displaced. Some area residents only had a brief window to escape as the fire quickly spread through neighborhoods with 20 mph winds and 40 mph wind gusts. Search teams are using drones with three-dimensional cameras and search dogs in an effort to locate missing people in neighborhoods that have been reduced entirely to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.
The state’s insurance commissioner says the unprecedented wildfires have caused over $1 billion in insured losses. The wildfires have scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City. The fires have destroyed over 8,000 homes and businesses and are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began.
The fires started Oct. 8 and 9 and steadily burning through forests, neighborhoods, farms, wineries and other infrastructure—including cell phone towers used by the state’s emergency services. High winds and dry weather statewide have hampered efforts to contain the multiple blazes-making them the most destructive wildfires in California’s history.
Firefighters have continuously fought to contain the series of fires using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines. Hundreds of firefighters poured in to California as crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from Canada and Australia. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.
The fires have been particularly bad in Sonoma County, where 30 marijuana farms and three marijuana manufacturers have lost everything to the blazes. Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses since federal law prohibits banks and financial institutions from participating in the marijuana industry, even in the eight states where recreational pot is legal, because marijuana is illegal according to federal law. Twenty-seven wineries have reportedly suffered damaged. Many wineries have reported either complete losses or significant damage.
California governor Jerry Brown has remained in state capital Sacramento this week, issuing emergency declarations and securing federal disaster relief. “This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced,” Brown said. “The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined.”