California wildfires rage, threatening lives and homes

Story highlights

  • Sheriff's office: Authorities tried to reach disabled elderly woman, but fire had engulfed her subdivision
  • A woman returns to her burned home, finds it "so much worse" than she expected
  • Several wildfires in Northern California have spread quickly, threatening thousands of homes

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Calistoga, California (CNN)The Napa County Fairgrounds is usually a place you go to have fun -- to watch a race, enjoy a show or revel at a festival.

Now, it's a refuge.
    The fairgrounds have become a tent city for some of the thousands displaced by fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, blazes that continued to rage Monday across parched terrain threatening more homes and more lives.
    "I just want to go home, if I have a home anymore," said Melissa Canchola, who has pitched a tent in the fairgrounds for her and her four children. "... I don't think there's anything left."
    She is among those affected by the Valley Fire, which has scorched more than 61,000 acres since starting Saturday. Already, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and some 9,000 more are threatened, according to CalFire.
    In the first few frenetic hours after the fire began, the Lake County Sheriff's Office got flooded with calls asking for helping evacuate people. One of those came in at 7:12 p.m. (10:12 p.m. ET) Saturday soliciting assistance to help an elderly disabled woman to safety. But authorities couldn't get to her before her subdivision was engulfed in flames.
    That woman is the first victim of the Valley Fire. But Gov. Jerry Brown suggested she might not be the last.
    "These fires will take lives. And they will cause injuries," Brown said. "We have to do the best we can because we are really in a battle with nature. (And) nature is more powerful than we are."

    'I didn't expect to see everything gone'

    Tammy Moore was at work when the Valley Fire roared through Cobb, California, leveling the home she's owned for 15 years.
    "(It is) so much worse than I thought it would be," Moore said. "Even though I expected it to be bad, I didn't expect to see everything gone."
    Many others had similar horror stories.
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    Cobb resident Joyce Reim related her narrow escape to CNN affiliate KGO.
    "We were stuck in the middle of the fire for a while, and we couldn't go either way," she recalled. "As we came down, there was just fire everywhere.
    "Our neighbors' houses, our friends' houses, everybody's houses were just burning out."

    Official: 'We don't see an end in fire season'

    Mark Ghilarducci, California's emergency services director, said that roughly 13,000 people have been displaced by the Valley Fire, which was 5% contained late Monday afternoon.
    Another 11,000 or so in Amador and Calaveras counties have been ordered to evacuate because of the Butte Fire, which had scorched more than 71,000 acres.
    Even smaller fires, like the Lumpkin Fire in Butte County, had triggered evacuation orders.
    The worst thing may be that -- even if and when all these wildfires are subdued -- that doesn't mean the worst is over. While "fire season" used to be a confined period, now it's essentially year-round thanks in part to a historic drought that has left plenty of dry fodder for flames to spread.
    "We don't see an end in fire season for ... months to come," said Chief Ken Pimlott, CalFire's director. "... We're in this for the long haul."