Massive Wildfires in Northern California Burn Hundreds of Homes, Threaten Thousands More

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Massive brush fires were wreaking havoc in parts of Northern California on Sept. 14, 2015. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, while thousands more remain threatened. (Credit: KTXL)

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It’s a painful sight, even for a veteran firefighter.

Bob Cummensky peered over a devastated section of Middletown, California, where home after home was gobbled up by the Valley Fire.

“It’s such a beautiful area and it’s changed forever,” he told CNN affiliate KOVR, pointing to the scorched landscape.

Nearly 600 homes have gone up in flames since the blaze roared to life over the weekend. Another 9,000 are threatened, according to Cal Fire.

One person has died in the Valley Fire: a 72-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis who couldn’t get out of her house, fire officials said.

Now at 67,000 acres, fire crews are gaining ground. Containment was at 30 percent.

‘I didn’t expect to see everything gone’

Tammy Moore was at work when the Valley Fire tore 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 in Northern California had similar horror stories.

Official: ‘We don’t see an end in fire season’

Mark Ghilarducci, California’s emergency services director, said roughly 13,000 people have been displaced by the Valley Fire.

Another 11,000 or so in Amador and Calaveras counties have been ordered to evacuate because of the Butte Fire, which had scorched nearly 72,000 acres and destroyed 166 homes. It is 40 percent contained.

Even smaller fires, like the Lumpkin Fire in Butte County, 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.”

‘A new beginning’

Back in Middletown, Craig Eve faced the carcass of his old home. It’s really not even the bones of the old place, just a blackened chimney.

“It’s a new beginning even though I’ve lost everything, and that’s the way you have to do it. You have to have a positive attitude,” he told affiliate KGO. “With that attitude I can’t wait to clear my house and start building again.”

Some rain to help

Some help could be on the way.

Light rain is predicted for Wednesday in the Valley Fire area, and the rainfall could help firefighters better contain the wildfire, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

But the relief will be temporary.

“The Valley Fire will see some moisture, perhaps a quarter inch or less. Conditions should be dry by Thursday morning, with dry and warm weather for the weekend,” the service said.

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