Sunday 22 July 2018

Firefighters get upper hand on California blazes

A firefighter walks between grape vines as a helicopter drops water over a wildfire near a winery in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: AP
A firefighter walks between grape vines as a helicopter drops water over a wildfire near a winery in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: AP

Ellen Knickmeyer in San Francisco

Fire authorities believe they have turned a corner in battling several of the wildfires that have devastated wine country and other rural parts of northern California over the past week.

Some counties were preparing to let more evacuees return to their homes amid improving weather.

The wildfires that erupted last weekend have killed at least 40 people and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and other structures. As of yesterday, roughly 75,000 people were under evacuation orders, down from nearly 100,000 the day before.

The winds that have been fanning the deadliest and most destructive cluster of wildfires in California history did not kick up yesterday as much as feared.

"Conditions have drastically changed from just 24 hours ago, and that is definitely a very good sign. And it's probably a sign we've turned a corner on these fires," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"We're starting to see fires with containment numbers in the 50 and 60pc, so we're definitely getting the upper hand on these fires."

Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, though officials said they believe they will locate most of them alive.

Most of the dead are believed to have died late on October 8 or early October 9, when the fires exploded and took people by surprise in the middle of the night. Most of the victims were elderly.

In all, 17 large fires still burn across the northern part of the state.

Irish Independent

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