California Fires

October 18, 2017
The sun rises over Santa Rosa, California, on October 10.
PAUL KITAGAKI JR.—THE SACRAMENTO BEE/AP

A state of emergency was declared in California last week, after more than a dozen wildfires broke out in the state. Most of the fires began on October 8, in Northern California. They grew rapidly, fueled by winds of up to 50 miles per hour and dry conditions in the region.

At least 20 people have been killed and about 200 injured, state authorities say. At least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. About 50,000 people have been forced to evacuate. Many left home in a hurry. They had no time to prepare or gather personal belongings. “All that good stuff—I’m never going to see it again,” Jeff Okrepkie said. He fled from his home in Santa Rosa. It was destroyed soon after he left.

The fires burned through parts of eight counties, including Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino. These areas are important to California’s economy. They are home to many of the state’s vineyards and wineries, which generated more than $57 billion in 2016. Santa Rosa, a city in Sonoma County with a population of 175,000, was hit especially hard.

A fire also broke out in Orange County, in Southern California, on October 9. No deaths were reported. But more than 5,000 homes were evacuated, and several were destroyed.

October is when wildfires usually produce the most destruction in California. But it is unusual for so many fires to start at once. At press time, authorities had not announced a cause for any of the fires, many of which were still burning.