California wildfire razes 400 homes

LAKEPORT (California) • A Northern California wildfire ranked as the most destructive to hit the drought-stricken US West this year has killed a woman and burned some 400 homes to the ground. Fire officials have said they expect the property toll to climb.

The so-called Valley Fire erupted on Saturday and spread quickly to a cluster of small communities north of Napa County's wine-producing region, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.

An elderly, disabled woman who was unable to flee her home died as flames consumed the building on Saturday evening, the Lake County Sheriff's spokesman said.

By Monday evening, the blaze had blackened 24,690ha of tinder- dry forests, brush and grasslands, and was only about 10 per cent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Fire officials described the rapid initial rate of spread as nearly unprecedented, a consequence of vegetation desiccated by four years of drought and weeks of extreme summer heat.

By Monday night, more than 1,400 firefighters were battling the flames, one of 12 major wildfires across the state during an intense fire season.

Video footage from Middletown, a village of about 1,500 residents, showed a smoking, devastated scene of burnt-out vehicles, twisted, blackened debris and charred foundations of buildings that had been reduced to ash.

- REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'California wildfire razes 400 homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe