California wildfires rage unchecked with hundreds missing, 23 dead

Homeowner Phil Rush is confronted by the remains of his home that was destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa Calif. He says he and his wife and dog escaped with only their medication and a bag of dog food when flames overtook their neighborhood

Alarming video has emerged of a sheriff driving through flames in northern California where wildfires are destroying thousands of properties.

Almost two dozen fires, whipped by powerful winds, blew through Napa, Sonoma, and elsewhere on Monday morning.

But he warned that potential gusty winds forecast to hit the area later in the day could hamper firefighting efforts. The blaze torched at least 3,500 homes, businesses, and other structures.

Whether the town burns "is going to depend on the wind", Calistoga's Fire Chief Steve Campbell told Reuters early on Thursday. Neighborhoods have been reduced to panoramas of ash, charred trees and burned-out cars. Authorities say at least four wineries have been destroyed including an elite one near Atlas Peak in Napa.

But state and local officials warned that about 180 people are missing and unaccounted for, and some areas still out of reach of emergency crews, those figures are nearly certain to rise.The largest fires were burning in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, filling the picturesque landscape of the state's wine country with charred rubble and clouds of smoke. It was unclear how many might be fire victims rather than evacuees who had not checked in with authorities.

The deadliest of California's blazes, known as the Tubbs fire, was within 2 miles (3 km) of Calistoga, which had appeared to be in the path of advancing flames but was spared on the first night of the fires. The Tubbs fire, which has accounted for 13 of the deaths, is the worst single blaze since 2003, according to state data.

"This particular stretch of roadway was in the area of Franz Valley Rd at the onset of the fire's entrance to Sonoma County", the post read.

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