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Environment

Northern California Wildfires Kill at Least 11, Leaving Wine Country in Ashes

Napa County firefighter Jason Sheumann sprays water on a home as he battles flames from a wildfire Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, Calif. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California sending residents on a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

More than 15 separate fires have scorched more than 100,000 football fields worth of land in what is becoming one of the worst wildfires in California history.

At least 11 people have died since Sunday night, 20,000 have evacuated at-risk areas, hundreds have been sickened or injured, and more than 1,500 buildings have been damaged or ruined, according to The New York Times.

October is wildfire season for the state, but this latest burst of fires has been especially intense because of a combination of dry and windy conditions that allow the flames to aggressively spread, according to CNN.

To make matters worse, the regional government is currently under resourced, CNN reports.

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As a result, California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared an emergency proclamation for Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange counties.

“This is really serious,” Brown said at a morning news conference, according to The New York Times. “It’s moving fast. The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse. It’s not under control by any means. But we’re on it in the best way we know how.”

He’s also calling on President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster, which would trigger federal assistance.  

"These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents," the governor's proclamation said.

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Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for fighting climate change, which can create conditions for stronger fires. You can take action on this issue here.

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The worst-hit areas have been Sonoma and Napa county, two of the country’s premier wine-producing counties.

At least seven people have died in Sonoma, according to CNN. Napa, meanwhile, has seen the most extensive wildfire destruction, with three separate blazes affecting nearly 60,000 acres.

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Each county is expected to lose $13 billion because of extensive damage to wineries, which will have far-reaching impacts for local people. The wine industry in Napa county, for example, employs 46,000 people locally and creates 303,000 jobs nationally.

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Many people throughout the region were caught off guard by the fires and abruptly fled on foot or by car, according to The New York Times, avoiding roadways that were filled with fire.

Amid the chaos, hundreds of people became poisoned through smoke inhalation and others were burned.  

After the fire burned through their communities, some residents returned to find only the ashes of their possessions left, according to The New York Times.  

Firefighters throughout the region are continuing to battle the fires. Less windy conditions on Tuesday have meant the fire is spreading less aggressively, making it more manageable, according to local reports.

Either way, the destruction has been done and this fire will go into the history books.

“I’ve been with the department for 31 years, and some years are notorious,” Janet Upton, a deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The New York Times. “I’m afraid that 2017 is going to be added to that list now.”

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