Monday 23 September 2019

Emergency crews make progress controlling California wildfires

Smoke continues to billow in the hills behind Napa, California (AP)
Smoke continues to billow in the hills behind Napa, California (AP)

Crews have made progress controlling the California wildfires but reported the first death from the firefighting effort after a driver was killed when his truck overturned on a winding mountain road.

The driver, who was delivering water to the fire lines, crashed before dawn in Napa County on a road that climbs from vineyards into the mountains.

No other details were available about the accident, which is under investigation, said fire spokesman Mike Wilson.

After days of gusts that constantly fanned the fires, better weather offered a chance for crews to get the upper hand more than a week after the blazes, which have killed at least 40 people, started devastating the state's celebrated wine country.

"The weather has not been in our favour over the past week in general, but we are still marching forward with our progress," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The smoky skies started to clear in some places, and thousands of people got the all-clear to return home.

About 40,000 evacuees are still waiting for permission to go back to their communities, down from 100,000 on Saturday.

Although the weather was still hot and dry, the calmer winds and the possibility of rain later in the week should help crews tamp down the deadliest, most destructive cluster of blazes in California history.

"Any sort of moisture is welcome at this point," said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "In terms of fire, the weather outlook is looking to be improving."

He predicted 0.25in of rain would fall late on Thursday in Sonoma and Napa counties.

Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, although authorities said many of them are probably safe but have not let anyone know.

In hard-hit Sonoma County, Sheriff Rob Giordano said authorities have located all but about 100 of the more than 1,700 people once listed as missing.

Many of those names were put on the list after people called from out of state to say they could not reach a friend or relative.

Authorities said they will not let people return home until it is safe and utilities are restored. Pacific Gas and Electric Company said it expects to restore power and gas to the area by late on Monday.

Nearly 11,000 firefighters are still battling more than a dozen fires burning across a 100-mile stretch of the state. The blazes have destroyed 5,700 homes and other structures.


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