Wednesday 13 December 2017

Trump vows help for California after at least 15 die in wildfires

A wildfire in Santa Rosa, California (AP)
A wildfire in Santa Rosa, California (AP)

President Donald Trump says the US federal government will be there for California as devastating wildfires rage through the state's wine country, leaving at least 15 people dead.

Mr Trump says he talked with Governor Jerry Brown to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. We will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need".

As well as the deaths, 100 people have been injured and at least 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed by the wildfires in northern California.

Mr Brown said the Federal Emergency Management Agency responded promptly to California's request for help.

He also said he appreciates Mr Trump's fast response.

Mr Brown declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties and requested a presidential major disaster declaration to help battle at least 18 blazes burning throughout the state.

Taken as a group, the fires are already among the deadliest in California history.

Some of the largest of the 14 blazes burning over a 200-mile region were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. They sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles away.

Sonoma County said it has received more than 100 missing-person reports as family and friends scramble to locate loved ones.

Much of the damage was in Santa Rosa, a far larger and more developed city than usually finds itself at the mercy of a wildfire.

The city is home to 175,000 residents, including the wine-country wealthy and the working class.

The flames were unforgiving to both groups. Hundreds of homes of all sizes were levelled by flames so hot they melted the glass in cars and turned aluminium wheels into liquid.

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, who runs an outdoor sporting goods store in Santa Rosa, was forced to flee in minutes with his wife, two daughters and a son just over two weeks old.

"I can't shake hearing people scream in terror as the flames barrelled down on us," Mr Lowry said.

The ferocity of the flames forced authorities to focus primarily on getting people out safely, even if it meant abandoning structures to the fire.

Firefighters rushed to a state home for the severely disabled when flames reached one side of the centre's sprawling campus in the historic Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen.

Crews got the more than 200 people out of the threatened buildings, one firefighter said, as flames closed within a few dozen feet.

Fires from ruptured gas lines dotted the smoky landscapes of blackened Santa Rosa hillsides. Fire engines raced by smouldering roadside landscaping in search of higher priorities.

The flames were fickle in some corners of the city. One hillside home remained unscathed while a dozen surrounding it were destroyed.

A large majority of the injured were treated for smoke inhalation, according to St Joseph Health, which operates hospitals in the Santa Rosa area. Two were in critical condition and one was in serious condition.

AP

Press Association

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