Fierce winds are forecast for late Wednesday into Thursday as wildfires continue to blaze throughout Northern California, raising the death toll to 21.
A Red Flag Warning was issued for the area, in combination with a Wind Advisory, indicating strong winds and warm, dry conditions that could “result in extreme burning conditions,” the National Weather Service said.
There is “high fire danger” expected in the North Bay Mountains and East Bay Hills by Wednesday night, the NWS said. It anticipated winds would decrease by Thursday afternoon through Friday before picking up again.
Twenty-two wildfires are ravaging the famed Northern California wine country and have destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses so far, according to California fire officials.
“The devastation is enormous,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said. “We can’t even get into most areas.”
The fires are considered the third deadliest and most destructive blazes in the state’s history.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott described the deadly fires as “a serious, critical, catastrophic event" at a news conference.
Eight thousand firefighters have been deployed to battle the flames and are focused on protecting lives and property, Pimlott said.
The number of reported missing persons also rose Wednesday to at least 600 people, up from 200 the day before, authorities said. But they say that number is caused by chaotic conditions making it hard for people to find loved ones and poor communication.
Officials expect the number of missing persons to drop but are asking people to mark themselves as safe on the official registry and alert authorities.
As the fire and winds move, new evacuations were ordered by authorities. Fire officials combed through neighborhoods in Calistoga in Napa Valley early Wednesday morning, warning people they needed to leave.
More evacuations for Sonoma County were ordered as well, after flames engulfed 44 square miles of the area. Orders were also put in place for Green Valley in Solano County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.