10 killed in California fires, more deaths expected

NAPA, UNITED STATES: Raging wildfires in California's wine country have claimed at least 10 lives and forced thousands to flee, authorities said on Monday.

Fanned by winds surpassing 80kmh, the fires have forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate in the heaviest populated US state since they began on Sunday night.

California's fire service said about 30,000 ha have been ravaged by the major infernos.

"The Sheriff's Office confirms seven fire-related deaths from the Sonoma Co. fires. Our condolences to their friends and families," tweeted the sheriff of Sonoma County in the state's north. The death toll rose to 10 later and it is expected to rise.

At least 1,500 buildings were destroyed as the state declared an emergency in three counties ravaged by intense fires, mostly in its wine-producing regions.

Fourteen major fires are burning in total.

An AFP correspondent in the Santa Rosa area witnessed multiple explosions from gas lines and gas tanks, in addition to charred out homes and a winery. Fire trucks were out in force in that area, he said.

About 410 firefighters are working on fires in Mendocino, a sheriff's spokesman in that county told the CBS news network, adding that multiple fatalities were expected.

Another fire in Anaheim has surged to char 800 ha and at least 200 fire fighters scrambled to try to contain it. Dozens of shelters were opened in schools and churches. Even livestock had shelter areas set up on some fair grounds.

"We're going to have to start over completely," Ms Dreama Goldberg, who fled her home - now a heap of ashes - at eight months pregnant, told NBC.

Mr Jesus Torres told CBS he barely had time to grab a few things and run from his home. "We could see the sky was getting red. We did not know it was fire until the last second because there was just smoke everywhere," he said. - AFP

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