Northern California wildfire destroys hundreds of structures – Reuters


MIDDLETOWN, Calif. A rapidly spreading wildfire has destroyed hundreds of structures as it roars through the northern California towns of Middletown and Cobb, chasing thousands of residents from their homes in and around those communities, fire officials said on Sunday.

The so-called Valley Fire, now ranking as the most destructive among scores of blazes that have raged across the drought-stricken Western United States this summer, came amid what California fire officials described as “unheard of fire behavior” this season.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in areas ravaged by the blaze, and officials expanded mandatory evacuations as shifting winds sent flames and ash toward a number of towns in the hills north of Napa Valley wine country.

The Valley Fire has consumed more than 40,000 acres since erupting Saturday afternoon in rural Lake County, California, about 50 miles west of Sacramento, the state capital.

Thousands of evacuees from Middletown, Cobb, Hidden Valley Lake and the Harbin Hot Springs resort gathered in shelters, restaurants and friends’ houses in nearby Kelseyville and Calistoga waiting to hear about their homes, horses and dogs.

Middletown and the town of Cobb, just to the north, were reported to be hardest hit by the flames, with large swaths of Middletown left in ruins, according to officials, eyewitnesses and local media reports.

“While crews have not had a chance to do a full damage assessment … we know 100s of structures have been destroyed,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said in a Twitter post.

Four firefighters were hospitalized with second-degree burns after they were dropped off by helicopter to battle the fire, authorities said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Writing by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by William Hardy, Bill Trott and Andrea Ricci)

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