At least 23 people have been killed and hundreds more missing as well as thousands of homes damaged as massive wildfires sweeping through California, authorities said.
Nearly 300 people are missing, but police say that may be due to the chaotic nature of evacuations.
“Now the winds are going back up and the humidity is going back down,” said Heather Williams, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fire protection. “We’re still not out of the woods. It’s a very serious situation.”
“This is a serious, critical, catastrophic event,” California fire chief Ken Pimlott told reporters. “We’re not going to be out of the woods for a great number of days to come.”
Pimlott said that after a respite on Tuesday, winds kicked up again on Wednesday, and the winds and dry conditions were hampering efforts to contain the blazes.
The causes of the fires are unknown.
At least 8,000 firefighters and support personnel and 124 aircraft are battling the fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties in Northern California.
Gusts had died down early this week, but on Wednesday they blew between 20 and 40 mph and conditions were still extremely dry, with low humidity and no rain. Thursday’s forecast is for similar conditions.
More than 20,000 people had been ordered to evacuate as of Wednesday, and authorities were encouraging others to pack “ready-to-go bags” with documents and medicines in case they had to flee the fast-spreading flames on a moment’s notice.
President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in California, freeing up federal funding and resources to help fight the fires. And Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in eight counties.
Bob Nelson, 53, stopped in his black pickup truck at a police roadblock near Santa Rosa, said he fled his home on Sunday and returned on Tuesday.