The Latest: 720 homes destroyed by 2 California fires

AP News
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Posted: Sep 15, 2015 1:20 AM
The Latest: 720 homes destroyed by 2 California fires

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — The latest on wildfires raging in drought-stricken California (all times local):

9:45 p.m.

Two fires burning in Northern California have destroyed at least 720 homes and are threatening thousands of other structures.

Cal Fire says 585 houses were destroyed by a blaze in Lake County. The fire that started Saturday is threatening another 9,000 structures.

It says another fire burning about 120 miles to the southeast in the Gold Rush country of the Sierra Nevada foothills has decimated 135 homes.

Cal Fire says another 6,000 structures are on the path of the blaze in Amador and Calaveras Counties.

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5:30 p.m.

The family of a disabled woman found dead in the ruins of her home destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire have identified her as 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams.

McWilliams' family says in a brief statement she was a retired teacher who had settled in the Middletown area in the last year.

Her caretaker, Jennifer Hittson, tells the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (http://bit.ly/1Kbct8I ) McWilliams had advanced multiple sclerosis and had major physical disabilities that limited her ability to walk.

Hittson says she left McWilliams' home at about 3 p.m. Saturday. She says she realized how serious the fire had become after getting home and called authorities to go help the woman.

Deputies and officers responded to the area around 7:30 p.m. but were unable to reach the subdivision because it had already been engulfed in flames.

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3:45 p.m.

At least eight firefighters lost their homes to a fast-moving, drought-fueled wildfire in Northern California.

The union that represents 6,500 firefighters launched a fundraising campaign Monday for the eight victims. Mike Lopez, president of Cal Fire Local 2881, says two or three other firefighters may have lost their homes as well.

None of the firefighters or their families was hurt. Lopez says several of the firefighters were battling blazes in Northern California when they heard of the flames reaching their homes.

Separately, four firefighters are recovering from second-degree burns they suffered Saturday battling a wildfire in Lake County, about 90 miles north of San Francisco.

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1:13 p.m.

Authorities say an elderly, disabled woman was found dead in the ruins of her Northern California home after it was overwhelmed by a fast-moving wildfire.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department said Monday that deputies received a call Saturday night to check on the woman, but they were unable to approach her house because of the flames. The agency says the woman appeared unable to leave her home without assistance.

Her name hasn't been released pending notification of family members.

No other deaths have been reported, but others are missing, though officials don't yet know whether those unaccounted for are elsewhere.

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12:30 p.m.

Shirley Leuzinger lived in her home in Middletown for 15 years before it was destroyed by fire.

So was the one across the street, where she and her husband previously lived for 10 years and raised their children.

Leuzinger said Monday she had seen TV images of her home burning and some neighbors had taken photos of the destruction, but it wasn't until she saw it with her own eyes that the grief set in.

She says she's thankful her family and three dogs are safe. She's also thankful she was able to grab a few pictures and some important papers.

But standing in the middle of the ash and rubble, she remembered all the other possessions she wished she had taken with her. She says she's doing her best to hold it together.

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11:30 a.m.

California officials say a massive wildfire that's devastated rural communities north of California's Napa Valley has also damaged infrastructure.

At a news conference Monday, officials say the explosive blaze has damaged water distribution facilities and a massive complex of geothermal power plants known as the Geysers.

California Gov. Jerry Brown thanked firefighters for their courage as they "battle with nature" to stop that fire and another that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands to evacuate. At the press conference, the governor said the fires are "scary stuff" exacerbated by climate change and a four-year drought.

Fire Chief Ken Pimlott says there have been 1,500 more fires than usual for this point in the year.

There is one confirmed death and others are missing, though officials don't yet know whether those unaccounted for are elsewhere.

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10:27 a.m.

State officials say 23,000 people have been displaced by two explosive wildfires decimating whole communities in Northern California.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Monday that about 13,000 have been driven from their homes by a wildfire 20 miles north of the famed Napa Valley. He says about 10,000 people have been displaced from a second blaze less than 200 miles away in the Sierra Nevada.

People have packed evacuation centers as the fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and led to one confirmed death.

Ghilarducci says more residents are missing.

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9:48 a.m.

Several hundred people chased from their homes by an explosive wildfire in Northern California spent the night at the Napa County Fairgrounds and awoke to a breakfast of eggs, bacon and doughnuts.

Donations of food, clothing and shoes, diapers and dog food have flooded in. Evacuees milled around Monday morning eating, picking up clothing and walking their dogs.

Nancy O' Byrne was evacuated from her home in Middletown, about 20 miles north of the famed Napa Valley, but it's still standing. She says she feels "very, very, very lucky."

Michael Alan Patrick had been at the fairgrounds since Saturday and lost everything in the blaze.

When the fire broke out, he had been sitting in a Middletown park with his friends and saw the flames coming. He said it was like looking through a tunnel.

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7:30 a.m.

The number of homes destroyed in a Sierra Nevada wildfire in Amador and Calaveras counties has risen to 135, up from 81.

That fire was 30 percent contained on Monday.

A separate destructive wildfire burning 100 miles north of San Francisco has grown to 95 square miles.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant says containment is at 5 percent.

The fire has destroyed 400 homes and many other structures including barns and outbuildings, and there's a report of a fatality.

Forecasters say Northern California weather conditions are changing as low pressure approaches the West Coast. That will mean cooling, increasing winds, higher humidity and showers, then more widespread precipitation Wednesday.