California Wildfires: Officials Get More Than 100 Missing Persons Reports

LOS ANGELES — Powerful wildfires fanned by strong winds ravaged parts of Northern California’s wine country on Monday, killing at least 11 people and destroying some 1,500 structures.

More than a dozen blazes continued to burn across eight counties since the weekend, while over 20,000 people in the paths of the fast-moving infernos fled their homes, fire officials said.

With increased resources headed to the region to battle the wildfires, “hopefully we’ll start seeing some turnaround throughout the course of today and into tomorrow,” Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said Tuesday on TODAY.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency in the affected counties, which include Napa and Sonoma, and asked for a federal declaration of a major disaster for the entire state.

In Sonoma County, officials said they had received more than 100 phone calls to its missing persons hotline, although they believed some could be duplicates.

Marian Williams of Kenwood, in Sonoma County, told NBC Bay Area that she joined a caravan of neighbors driving through the flames before dawn as one of the fires reached the area’s vineyards.

“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” Williams told the station.

The 15 wildfires — which also engulfed a hotel and a trailer park in the city of Santa Rosa and sent smoke spewing as far south as San Francisco — have collectively become among the most deadliest in California’s history.

PHOTOS: Massive Wildfires Consume Homes Across Northern California

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said seven people had been killed there in fire-related incidents — and “that number’s going to change.”

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The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection confirmed that one person was killed in Mendocino County as well as two people in Napa County. They were identified by NBC Bay Area as 100-year-old Charlie Rippey, a World War II veteran, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara.

Their son, Chuck Rippey, told the station that their caregiver contacted him as the fire closed in and said his parents were still inside the Silverado Golf Course home they lived in for the past 40 years.

“The caregiver called and said there’s fire everywhere,” Chuck Rippey said. “I said get these guys out on the street, and before she knew it, the roof was caving in very fast.”

Another fire-related death was confirmed in Yuba Country.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, agreed Monday that other deaths were likely across the region. Since the fires were moving so rapidly, he added, authorities were “still trying to get our hands around” the full extent of the damage and casualties.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said that many other people had been injured and that an undetermined number were missing.

The National Weather Service warned that very low relative humidity, coupled with strong and gusty winds, would continue to pose a critical threat through Tuesday morning. Winds were expected to weaken later in the day and on Wednesday, with higher humidity spreading slowly inland.

Pacific Gas & Electric said more than 94,000 customers were without power as of Tuesday morning, most of them in the North Bay Division and Sonoma area. Gas service was shut off to 30,000 customers, it said. The California Highway Patrol said it had rescued 44 people by helicopter.

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All of the new fires started after 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET) on Sunday, Pimlott said, bringing the total spread of more than 25 fires across the northern half of California to about 73,000 acres at what he called the worst possible time.

McClean said investigators were still trying to determine the origin of the blazes and called it a “meticulous process.”

Image: A helicopter drops water on a wind-driven wildfire

A helicopter drops water on a wind-driven wildfire in Orange, California on Monday.