At Least 24 People Dead, 20,000 People Evacuated, Hundreds Missing and Thousands of Structures Damaged in Horrific California Wildfires

Flames ravage a home in the Napa wine region in California, Oct. 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Massive wildfires sweeping through California have killed at least 24 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings, authorities said.

Firefighters were still battling 22 wildfires in multiple counties as of Thursday morning. Intensified by strong winds, the flames have charred more than 180,000 acres of land, damaged or destroyed at least 3,500 structures and forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The causes of the fires are unknown.

At least 8,000 firefighters and support personnel are battling the fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties in Northern California.

With firefighters stretched thin throughout the state, federal agencies as well as neighboring Nevada and nearby Washington state are assisting with resources. Authorities said 1,000 fire departments from San Diego to Oregon have joined the effort.

St. Joseph Health said 168 patients have been treated, many for burns and smoke inhalation, at three of its hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties as of Monday night.

An additional 463 people were unaccounted for in Sonoma County as of Thursday morning, according to the sheriff’s office. There had been 900 missing people reports since the fires began, but 437 people have been safely located.

At least 7,000 people were without power Wednesday in Napa County alone.

In the wake of the fires, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday morning that it has arrested five people for looting in evacuation areas.

Three of the individuals were Santa Rosa natives who were arrested and booked on a number of offenses. A 28-year-old man was found with two stolen bikes as well as narcotics, police said. A 48-year-old woman and a 49-year-old woman were also arrested, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

With mandatory evacuation orders still in place, many residents in the affected areas have been warned not to return to their homes until further notice.

“Life is more important than property,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said at a press conference Tuesday.

He said he thinks the wildfires will be “one of the worst natural disasters in California history.”

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SOURCE: ABC News, Karma Allen and Morgan Winsor