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California Wildfire's Death Toll Reaches 21

California Wildfire's Death Toll Reaches 21 Promo Image

Twenty-three people have lost their lives due to the wildfires that have been raging across Northern California throughout October.

Officials confirmed that 13 have died in the fire in Sonoma County, six have died in Mendocino County, two have died in Napa County and two have died in Yuba County, the Los Angeles Times reports.

While 315 people who were reported missing in Sonoma County have been found, officials are searching for 285 people still missing. It's unclear whether these people failed to check in after evacuating or perished in the fire.

The outbreak is California's second most deadly, The New York Times reports. The state's most devastating fire occurred in 1991 when 25 people died in the Oakland Hills fire.

"We've had big fires in the past, but this is one of the biggest," said Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brown issued a state of emergency for several northern counties, as well as for Orange County in the south, according to The Daily Californian. 

So far, the 22 fires have burned 170,000 acres and destroyed 3,500 structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimates.

October is particularly bad for fires given that California's hot, dry summers turn the state's plentiful vegetation into dehydrated hordes of tinder. It is still not known what ignited the fires, though downed power lines or human activity is suspected.

Weather events of the past few years have primed 2017 to be an especially severe fire season, The New York Times reports. California's multi-year drought left dead, dry plant litter on the ground of the state's fire-prone areas. That changed with 2016's winter and 2017's summer, which brought record amounts of rainfall to the parched regions of the state. That rainfall also spurred plant growth. Most of those plants dried out during the summer, providing more fuel for fires.

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The fires were exacerbated by 70 mile-per-hour winds, known as diablo winds, that blew from the Northeast in early October.

Officials are afraid that strong winds predicted for Oct. 11 and 12 will blow the fire towards areas of the Santa Rosa Valley that have not yet been affected. Evacuations are in order for those areas, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sources: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Reuters via The Weather Network / Featured Photo: Andrea Booher/FEMA / Embedded Images: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr, Andrea Booher/FEMA

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