California wildfire death toll hits 40

SANTA ROSA The authorities hope weaker winds will help more than 10,000 firefighters battle the deadliest blazes in California history, which have killed at least 40 people.

Fast-moving fires spread by shifting winds forced thousands more to evacuate their homes on Saturday.

More than 10,000 firefighters supported by air tankers and helicopters battled 16 major wildfires that have consumed nearly 86,000ha - an area larger than New York City. This is California's deadliest fire event, surpassing the 29 deaths from the 1933 fire in Los Angeles.

With 235 people still missing on Saturday in Sonoma County alone and rubble yet to be searched, the authorities expect the death toll to climb.

Some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes, including 3,000 on Saturday from Santa Rosa city.

The fires have damaged or destroyed about 5,700 structures, reducing homes and businesses to ash. Some victims were asleep when flames engulfed their homes. Others had only minutes to flee.

"This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced. The devastation is just unbelievable," California Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to Santa Rosa.

Firefighters from Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah are helping battle the blazes.

The state fire department estimated that the fires would be contained by Oct 20. - REUTERS

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