Speed Reads

California Burning

Northern California's wildfires are barely contained, and they're expected to get worse

The numbers from the 22 wildfires blazing through Northern California's wine country are already terrible: at least 23 dead, with more fatalities expected; more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed, including at least five wineries; 265 square miles, or 170,000 acres, of scorched or burning land; 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze, some working at least 40 hours straight; tens of thousands of people under mandatory evacuation, including all of Geyserville and Calistoga. But firefighters are worried about what's coming Thursday: Diablo winds of up to 45 mph are forecast to sweep through the area, with little or no humidity.

"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday. "We are literally looking at explosive vegetation." Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said that California has "had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over." And "we are at very low containment on most of these," added Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "These fires are literally burning faster than firefighters can run."

Investigators aren't sure what sparked the fires Sunday night, though they are examining reports that the same high winds that spread the fire rapidly and unpredictably also caused them by knocking down power lines.