Weekend gusts threaten new fires in embattled northern California

More than 20 people have died in the deadliest week of wildfires in state history.

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Drone images from fire-ravaged California
Video provided by AFP
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Firefighters watch from their fire trucks as wildfires continue to burn Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif.(Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP)

CALISTOGA, Calif. — Firefighters are facing another devastating round of the low humidity, dry foliage and strong weekend wind gusts up to 60 mph Friday as they battle more than 20 blazes in the deadliest week of wildfires in state history. 

The death toll from Northern California’s relentless wildfires increased to 31 Thursday with a report from Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano Thursday night of two more fatalities.

“We had series of statewide fires in 2003, 2007, 2008 that didn’t have anything close to this death count,” said Daniel Berlant, a deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Over 8,000 firefighters are battling the 21 wildfires that have burned 191,437 acres.  At least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed and an estimated 25,000 people forced to flee.

Among the structures destroyed was the Santa Rosa home of “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz. His 78-year-old widow Jean Schultz escaped the house, which burned to the ground, her stepson said Thursday.

The Schulzes built the California split-level home in the 1970s and the cartoonist lived there until his death in 2000.

Schulz usually worked at an outside studio and most of his original artwork and memorabilia are at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, which escaped the flames.

The biggest blaze, known as the Tubbs Fire, has destroyed 34,770 acres and is only 10 per cent contained in Sonoma County and part of Napa County, the state’s wine country. It is one of five fires burning in the two counties.

Overnight, according to CalFire, a new large wildfire broke out in Fresno County southeast of the Bay Area and fire officials warned that conditions were ripe for new outbreaks.

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Red Flag Warnings, forecasting dangerous fire conditions, are already in effect for much of Northern California as well as a stretch from near Santa Barbara to north of Los Angeles in Southern California.

Forecaster warn that wind gusts could hit 60 mph in the higher elevations of the fire-ravaged areas, raising the danger that sparks will be blown into the parched areas and set off more fires among the dry brush and timber.

.”Red Flag Warnings for gusty winds and low humidity remain in effect across the fire area and much of Northern California. These winds will continue to challenge firefighters in their efforts towards containment and will increase the risk for new fires,” CalFire said in a statement.

Contributing: Associated Press