At least 23 dead in horrific California wildfires, hundreds missing

Massive wildfires sweeping through California have killed at least 23 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings, authorities said.

Firefighters were still battling 22 wildfires in multiple counties as of Thursday morning. Intensified by strong winds, the flames have charred more than 170,000 acres of land, damaged or destroyed at least 3,500 structures and forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The causes of the fires are unknown.

At least 8,000 firefighters and support personnel 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.

With firefighters stretched thin throughout the state, federal agencies as well as neighboring Nevada and nearby Washington state are assisting with resources. Authorities said 1,000 fire departments from San Diego to Oregon have joined the effort.

St. Joseph Health said 168 patients have been treated, many for burns and smoke inhalation, at three of its hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties as of Monday night.

An additional 285 people were missing in Sonoma County as of Wednesday night, according to the sheriff’s office. There have been 600 total missing reports since the fires began, but 315 have those have been located safe.

Meanwhile, at least 7,000 people were without power Wednesday in Napa County alone.

In the wake of the fires, the Santa Rosa Police Department announced Wednesday night that they have arrested three people for looting. The individuals, all Santa Rosa natives, were arrested and booked on a number of offenses. One of those looters, Patrick Daly, 28, was found with two stolen bikes as well as narcotics, police said. A 48-year-old woman and a 49-year-old woman were also arrested.

With mandatory evacuation orders still in place, many residents in the affected areas have been warned not to return to their homes until further notice.

“Life is more important than property,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said at a press conference Tuesday.

He said he thinks the wildfires will be “one of the worst natural disasters in California history.”

Here’s a roundup of the main fires threatening the state:

The so-called Atlas, Nuns, Patrick and Pressley fires are considered branches of one giant blaze in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties — collectively known as the Southern LNU Complex — according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Mandatory evacuations and road closures were underway in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties, the heart of California’s wine country, as the flames threatened thousands of structures.

The Atlas fire has scorched 42,349 acres in Napa and Solano counties since the inferno began Sunday night, and just 3 percent of the blaze was contained Wednesday night. The enormous fire has destroyed 125 structures.

The Nuns fire has charred 8,476 acres in Sonoma County since Sunday night. It was just 2 percent contained Wednesday night.

The Patrick fire has burned 9,523 acres in Napa County since Sunday night, and only 2 percent of it was contained Wednesday night.

The Adobe fire has singed 9,004 acres in Sonoma County. Just 1 percent of it was contained as of Wednesday night.

The Norrbom fire has scorched 4,331 acres in Sonoma County, and only 1 percent of it was contained Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the Pressley fire has charred 473 acres in Sonoma County. It was just 1 percent contained Wednesday night.

The Tubbs and Pocket fires make up another enormous blaze, known as the the Central LNU Complex, in Napa and Sonoma counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 16,000 structures are threatened.

The Tubbs fire has burned 27,363 acres in Napa County since Sunday night, and it was 10 percent contained Wednesday night. The fire has destroyed 571 structures, and is just 10 percent contained, authorities said. Most of the deaths were due to the Tubbs fire.

Meanwhile, the Pocket fire has singed 4,000 acres in Sonoma County since Monday morning.

The Redwood/Potter fires and the Sulphur fire make up a giant blaze, known as the Mendocino Lake Complex, in Lake and Mendocino counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Redwood/Potter fires have scorched 30,000 acres in Mendocino County since Sunday night. It was just 5 percent contained Wednesday night.

The Sulphur fire has charred 2,500 acres in Lake County since late Sunday night, and 45 percent of it was contained by Wednesday night.

The Cascade, La Porte, Lobo and McCourtney fires make up one huge blaze in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties, collectively known as the Wind Complex, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Cascade fire has burned 12,399 acres in Yuba County since it began Sunday morning. It was 20 percent contained by Wednesday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

La Porte fire has singed 3,700 acres in Butte County since the blaze ignited early Monday morning and was 15 percent contained Wednesday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Lobo fire has scorched 857 acres in Nevada County since early Monday morning. It was 30 percent contained Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the McCourtney fire has charred 76 acres in Nevada County since early Monday morning, and 65 percent of it was contained Wednesday night.

The Canyon 2 fire has burned 9,214 acres in Southern California’s Orange County since the flames started Monday morning. It was 60 percent contained by Wednesday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

At least 3,000 residents were evacuated in and around Anaheim as thousands of structures were threatened by the blaze.

The Cherokee fire has singed 8,360 acres in Butte County since Sunday night and was 45 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The 37 fire has scorched 1,660 acres in Sonoma County since it started Monday afternoon. It was 70 percent contained by Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A cold front swept through much of California on Wednesday, bringing more gusty winds and lower humidity, according to ABC News meteorologists.

Winds were expected to continue to be gusty on Thursday, with some up to 50 mph in central California. Relative humidity will be in the teens in central and northern California and in the single digits in southern California.

These winds will continue through Saturday as the cold front moves through the region, meteorologists said.

The weather conditions have local authorities concerned about “aggressive” fire behavior.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings for Central and Northern California for Wednesday through Thursday. Fire weather watches were issued for Southern California for Thursday through Saturday. An air quality alert was also issued for central California.

As firefighters work to snuff the raging blazes, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum told ABC News the county has asked everyone to “help us out.”

Crum confirmed that the alert system put in place gave residents ample time to evacuate and likely prevented many deaths.

“We have a subscription service where we can alert our residents, and we did that right away, trying to notify everybody where the fire was, where it was going and how fast it was going, and I think it saved a lot of lives,” he said.

The sheriff’s sergeant conceded that it could take a long time for communities to bounce back.

“We have a lot of rebuilding here,” Crum said.

Santa Rosa resident Jeff Okrepkie said he fled his home of five years knowing that it could very well be leveled when he returned.

“All that good stuff, I’m never going to see it again,” he told ABC’s San Francisco station KGO on Monday.

Okrepkie said he and his wife tried their best to gather their most precious documents, photos and mementos, but it was impossible to grab everything in time.

Mike Turpen, 38, said he was at a bar in the Glen Ellen area of Sonoma County when someone stormed in wearing a smoke mask and yelled, “Fire!” He said he drove through the flames in his pickup truck with hopes of saving his home.

Turpen said his yard was scorched and still flaming in some spots, but he managed to keep his home from burning down.

“It was like Armageddon was on,” Turpen told KGO. “Every branch of every tree was on fire.”

ABC News’ Matt Foster, Max Golembo, Jenna Harrison, Marilyn Heck, M.L. Nestel, Rex Sakamoto and Ginger Zee contributed to this report.

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