SAN FRANCISCO • Wildfires have swept through northern California's iconic wine-growing regions of Napa and Sonoma, resulting in the evacuation of more than 20,000 people, killing at least 11 and damaging some of the most valuable vineyards and wineries in the United States.
About 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed, Mr Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), said on Monday.
The fires sweeping through one of the state's most scenic destinations also threaten the livelihoods of tens of thousands.
Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, as the fires raged unchecked and engulfed the region in thick, billowing smoke that drifted south into the San Francisco Bay area.
The San Francisco authorities issued an air-quality alert due to smoke from the fires.
Gov Brown later extended the emergency declaration to include four more northern California counties and Orange county in the south, and requested a presidential disaster declaration to support state and local firefighting resources.
Sonoma county bore the brunt of the fatalities, with seven fire-related deaths confirmed there, according to the sheriff's department.
Two died in Napa county and one each in Mendocino and Yuba counties.
KGO-TV in San Francisco, citing unnamed California Highway Patrol sources, described one victim as a blind, elderly woman found in the driveway of her home in Santa Rosa, a town in Sonoma county.
The death toll could climb higher, said Mr Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the governor's office of emergency services.
More than 100 people were treated for fire-related injuries such as burns and smoke inhalation, CNN reported.
On Monday, thousands of firefighters battled blazes amid wind gusts in excess of 80kmh that have helped spread 15 separate wildfires across some 29,540ha in northern California since they erupted late on Sunday night, according to CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.
Mr Bruce Coats recounted how he used his garden hose to spray his home down in hopes of saving it. Then he went to his neighbours' homes and tried the same thing.
It was futile. The combination of wind and fire was unstoppable.
Coffey Park, a subdivision of hundreds of homes in Santa Rosa, an hour north of San Francisco, burned to the ground. "It looks like a bomb went off," said Mr Coats' wife Lisa, an accounts assistant at a retirement home. "A nuke bomb," said Mr Coats, a soils expert.
Ms Lisa Layman, who has lived in Coffey Park for more than two decades, had trouble finding which patch of rubble was her house. "We couldn't even find the street," she said.
A separate wildfire on Monday torched at least half a dozen homes in the affluent Anaheim Hills neighbourhood of southern California's Orange county, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents, the authorities said.
That blaze erupted along a freeway off-ramp and spread quickly in gusty winds to scorch some 2,000ha in a matter of hours, fire officials said.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES