Wildfires "overwhelming" for residents, draining for crews

Sep 15, 2015 1:40 PM by CBS News

Violent wildfires in northern California are threatening thousands of buildings, as its flames have displaced about 23,000 people and destroyed around 750 homes.

The Valley Fire, considered one of the most destructive in California history, has already destroyed nearly 97 square miles, leveling entire neighborhoods like Middletown in its path.

Thousands of homes are still threatened and firefighters have their work cut out for them, as this massive fire is only 15 percent contained, reports CBS News' Danielle Nottingham.

On the front lines, firefighters working to contain the Valley Fire are facing strong winds and drought-dry tinder. For the first time since the massive fire started Saturday, clearer skies allowed air support to drop water from above.

But for many returning home, the damage is already done. The fast-moving fire pushed by wind gusts of up to 30 mph engulfed entire blocks in a few hours.

"I'm a pretty tough individual, but I had some tears," Roger Bevers of Middletown said.

Bevers returned to find his home still standing, but his neighbors, like hundreds of others, lost everything.

"Once they come back in here, it's going to be very overwhelming," Bevers said.

The fire moved so quickly Saturday night that emergency responders were flooded with calls.

Jennifer Hittson was 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams' caretaker.

"She's like, 'No I'm fine, it's gonna be fine.' She didn't understand the magnitude of it," Hittson said.

McWilliams was killed in the fire when she was unable to evacuate. Deputies say when they reached her neighborhood, it was engulfed in flames.

"I knew she was in the house. I knew she was going to be stuck and I knew she would have no way of getting out," Hittson said.

California has seen 1,500 more fires this year than at this time last year. Firefighters say the exceptionally dry conditions make it hard for crews to get control of the fire. But it's not the first time responders have seen these conditions.

"We are beginning to see more events like this... and certainly, the drought situation that California is facing was a big contributor to how fast this fire spread," Cal Fire's David Shew said.

There's some good news in Tuesday's forecast. Cooler temperatures and higher humidity are on the way, which could help firefighters increase containment.


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