More than ten people have been killed, thousands have been left without power, and tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate as more than a dozen wildfires tore through Northern California overnight Monday, forcing Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in eight counties.
“Presently, these fires continue their path of destruction,” Brown said in a statement late Monday. “Many residents had little time to flee due to the fires’ rapid and erratic rate of spread through the rural terrain. Tragically, these fires have already taken lives and emergency responders anticipate the number of fatalities could grow.”
Brown also asked President Donald Trump — who spent his morning tweeting insults at ESPN host Jemele Hill and the NFL — to issue a disaster declaration.
At least eighteen total wildfires have been counted, and firefighters have struggled to contain the inferno as powerful winds Monday night rapidly pushed the flames from rural areas into cities. As the Wall Street Journal reports, at least 2,000 homes have been destroyed, along with schools, grocery stores, and community centers.
“Essentially, we are in a mode of saving lives and getting people out of harm’s way at the moment,” one firefighter said in an interview Monday night.
The fires, which began Sunday night, have already been characterized as “among the most destructive in state history.” Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben described one image that emerged from Napa Valley as akin to “a city after a bombing.”
“It was like Armageddon,” California resident Mike Turpen told Yahoo News. “Every branch of every tree was on fire.”
Another resident, speaking with USA Today, said the fires are “an inferno like you’ve never seen before. Trees were on fire like torches.”
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 10, 2017
Amy Head, fire captain spokesperson for Cal Fire, a state agency tasked with fire protection, told the Guardian that the fires are “unprecedented,” even in a state that often experiences multiple wildfires simultaneously.
“I hate using that word because it’s been overused a lot lately because of how fires have been in the past few years, but it truly is — there’s just been a lot of destruction,” Head concluded.
Many have warned in the aftermath of intense wildfires that the effects of climate change are likely to intensify such devastating events, and similar concerns were issued Monday as the fires continued to spread relatively unconstrained.
“More dangerous wildfires and longer spells of drought have long been predicted among the many devastating impacts of climate change,” notes Cody Fenwick of the local Napa Valley Patch. “Research published last year has borne out these predictions, finding that about half the increase in damage from wildfires since the 1970s could be attributed to climate change.”
Local authorities said Monday that it is unclear what initially set off the fires, but noted that exceptionally dry conditions coupled with strong wings have allowed the fires to spread quickly.
As the fires raged overnight, horrifying videos and images spread on social media and firefighters expressed doubt that they will be able to “get in front” of the flames any time soon.
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) October 9, 2017