California fires grow to size of New York City

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At least 31 people have been killed and 400 are reported missing in the deadliest week of wildfires in California’s history.

The massive blazes, which began on Sunday, have swept through the state’s wine country, leaving thousands homeless.

With many of the flames still burning out of control, the fires have grown to more than 300 square miles (777 square km) – an area as large as New York City.

Around 8,000 firefighters are battling 20 blazes and their efforts have been hampered by strong winds, which could spark new fires.

But officials say progress is being made in tackling some of the largest ones.

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Wildfires in Santa Rosa
Image:Residents walk through a neighbourhood in Santa Rosa destroyed by the blazes

Extra manpower and equipment are being deployed from across the country and as far away as Australia and Canada.

It is not known what caused the wildfires but downed power lines and other utility equipment failures are two possible theories.

:: Apocalyptic scenes leave locals happy to be alive

fires california
Drone footage shows the devastation in Santa Rosa
Video:Drone captures Santa Rosa devastation

Referring to the gusty winds, California fire chief Ken Pimlott said: “What this means is that our fires will continue to burn erratically.

“They have the potential to shift in any direction at any time. We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe.”

Sheriff Rob Giordano of hard-hit Sonoma County, where thousands have been left homeless, said his officers have received around 1,100 reports of missing people.

fires california
Wildfires in Santa Rosa
Image:Santa Rosa is among the areas hit by the wildfires

He said around 745 of them have been located and are safe but pointed out “we still have 400 outstanding,” adding the actual figure may be smaller because of possible duplicate reports.

Among the burnt out properties was the Santa Rosa home of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

The cartoonist’s widow managed to escape the flames but the memorabilia in the house were destroyed.

However, most of Schulz’s original artwork is in a nearby museum unaffected by the blazes.

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An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California
Video:Hundreds more firefighters sent to Northern California

Forest fires are common in the western United States during the summer but this year’s ones in California are the deadliest series of fires to hit the state.

In 1933, the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles County killed at least 29 people, and 25 people died in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.