At least 23 dead in horrific California wildfires, hundreds missing

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 02:15:07 PM. At least 23 people have died in fast-growing wildfires across California.

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

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at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 1SLIDESHOW: PHOTOS: Wildfires rage through California wine country

Firefighters were still battling 22 wildfires in multiple California counties Wednesday. Intensified by strong winds, the flames have charred about 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 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.

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 were assisting.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 2NASA Earth Observatory/EPAAn image acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite shows smoke billowing from the fires in northern California, Oct. 9, 2017.

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 evening, 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.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 3Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty ImagesFlames ravage a home in the Napa wine region in California, Oct. 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.

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."

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 4Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty ImagesThe main building at Paras Vineyards burns in the Mount Veeder area of Napa in California Oct. 10, 2017.

Southern LNU Complex fires

The so-called Atlas, Nuns and Patrick 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 morning. The enormous fire has destroyed 125 structures.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 5Eric Risberg/APA rack of burned bottles of wine are seen at the Signorello Estate winery, Oct. 10, 2017, in Napa, Calif.

The Nuns fire has charred 7,626 acres in Sonoma County since Sunday night, and it was just 1 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Patrick fire has burned 9,523 acres in Napa County since Sunday night, and just 2 percent of it was contained Wednesday morning.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 6Josh Haner/The New York Times via ReduxAn aerial view of homes burned by wildfire in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 10, 2017.

Central LNU Complex fires

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 singed 28,000 acres in Napa County since Sunday night. The fire has destroyed 571 structures, and is just 10 percent contained, authorities said. Most of the deaths -- 13 total as of Wednesday night -- were due to the Tubbs fire.

Meanwhile, the Pocket fire has scorched 5,000 acres in Sonoma County since Monday morning and is 0 percent contained.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 7Josh Haner/The New York Times via ReduxAn aerial view of homes burned by wildfire in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 10, 2017.

Mendocino Lake Complex fires

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 charred 29,500 acres in Mendocino County since Sunday night, and was just 5 percent contained Wednesday morning.

The Sulphur fire has burned 2,500 acres in Lake County since late Sunday night, and was 30 percent contained by Wednesday morning.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 8Josh Haner/The New York Times via ReduxAn aerial view of homes burned by wildfire in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 10, 2017.

Wind Complex fires

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 scorched 12,349 acres in Yuba County since it began Sunday morning, and it was 20 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 9Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle/PolarisThe Tubbs fire tears through the Overlook apartment complex off of Bicentennial Way in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 9, 2017.

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

The Lobo fire has burned 857 acres in Nevada County since early Monday morning and 30 percent was contained Wednesday morning.

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

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 10Nick Giblin/DroneBase via APThis aerial image shows a neighborhood that was destroyed by a wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 10, 2017.

Canyon 2 fire

The Canyon 2 fire has scorched 8,000 acres in Southern California's Orange County since the flames started Monday morning. It was 45 percent contained Wednesday morning, 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.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 11Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesBurned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood, Oct. 9, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Cherokee fire

The Cherokee fire has charred 7,500 acres in Butte County since Sunday night, and it was 40 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 12Jeff Chiu/APA firefighter covers his eyes as he walks past a burning hillside in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 9, 2017.

Thirty-seven fire

The 37 fire has burned 1,650 acres in Sonoma County since it started Monday afternoon. It was 65 percent contained by Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 13Jeff Chiu/APTrees burn behind houses in a residential area in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 9, 2017.

What's ahead for California

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

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."

The wind's shifting gusts that helped the flames spread appeared to have subsided, he added.

"The night before this, we had 60 mph winds, which is the reason why you have such devastation here," Crum told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Tuesday on "Good Morning America."

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 14Jeff Chiu/APThe remains of a car sits near the Fountaingrove Inn Hotel as it burns at rear in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 9, 2017.

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.

at-least-23-dead-in-horrific-california-wildfires-hundreds-missing photo 15Getty ImagesThe remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area, Oct. 9, 2017, in Glen Ellen, California.

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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