At least 21 dead, hundreds missing as winds fan California wildfires

SONOMA, Calif. (Reuters) - Firefighters facing a resurgence of high winds on Wednesday struggled to halt wildfires that have killed at least 21 people, destroyed 3,500 structures and left hundreds missing in chaotic evacuations across northern California's wine country.

Nearly two dozen blazes spanning eight counties have charred around 170,000 acres. Flames erupted on Sunday night when gale force winds toppled power lines across the region, possibly igniting one of the deadliest wildfire outbreaks in California history.

Flames were spread rapidly by hot, dry "Diablo" winds - similar to Southern California's Santa Ana winds - that blew into northern California toward the Pacific on Sunday night.

62 PHOTOS
Devastating wildfires ravage California's wine country
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Devastating wildfires ravage California's wine country
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned lawn chairs sit next to the swimming pool at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a barn as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Los Angeles County firefighter monitors approching flames near a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out wine bottles sit on a rack at the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - OCTOBER 09: A burned out home sits next a vineyard after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Sonoma, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire daaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A burned home smolders in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a barn as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Cows stand on a patch of unburned grass after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned cars sit idle after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
A burned home smolders in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A garage door is left standing in front of a smoldering home in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A gas line spews flames at a burned out property in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Napa Valley public worker sprays water on a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Los Angeles County firefighter monitors approching flames near a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire burns a trailer and parking structure as an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a warning banner in San Francisco as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: Smoke rises as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident goes through personal belongings in a parking lot next to a fire damaged Arby's restaurant on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a section of the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Smoke continues to rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - OCTOBER 09: An out of control wildfire approaches Gundlach Bundschu winery on October 9, 2017 in Sonoma, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
An aerial shows damage caused by wildfires in Santa Rosa, California, U.S October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An American flag hangs from a tree in a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Area residents walk through a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Wine stains are seen on a fermentation tank at Paradise Ridge Winery after being destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) trucks are seen parked on a road between homes destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A wildfire is shown from the air near Atlas Road during an operation to rescue people trapped by wildfire in Napa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. Photo taken October 9, 2017. Courtesy California Highway Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A burnt tree stands amidst the destroyed Journey's End Mobile Home Park during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke and flame rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aerial view of properties destroyed by the Tubbs Fire is seen in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 12: Flowers mark the spot where his father died as Mike Rippey walks through the ruins of the house of 100-year-old Charles and 98-year-old Sara Rippey, who were killed in the Atlas Fire just after it began, on October 12, 2017 near Napa, California. Thousands homes have burned and two dozen people have been confirmed dead so far as numerous wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: An aerial view of homes that were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Twenty one people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 3,000 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A toy car is left scorched in a neighborhood destroyed by fire near Cardinal Newman High School on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Homeowner Phil Rush looks at the remains of his home destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. Rush said he and his wife and dog escaped with only their medication, a bag of dog food when flames overtook their entire neighborhood on October 9. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 11: The body of a cow that died in the Atlas Fire is seen in Soda Canyon on October 11, 2017 near Napa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, more than 2,000 homes have burned and at least 21 people have been killed as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread with little containment in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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The official cause of ignition has not been determined. But electric wires knocked down by those same winds may have sparked the conflagration, according to Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

"That is definitely a possibility, he told Reuters. "Power lines are a common cause of fires during wind events."

Berlant said some of the victims in northern California were asleep when the fast-moving fires broke out, igniting their homes before they could escape.

At least 20,000 people remained under evacuation as the fires raged largely unchecked for a third day, belching palls of smoke that engulfed the region and drifted south over the San Francisco Bay area, where some residents donned face masks.

The entire town of Calistoga, a Napa Valley community of some 5,000 residents spared from advancing flames the first night of the fire, was ordered evacuated on Wednesday evening, as the county sheriff's office warned that conditions had worsened.

More than 550 people were still reported unaccounted for in Sonoma County on Wednesday morning, said Jennifer Laroque, a county emergency operations center spokeswoman.

It was unclear how many of the missing might be actual fire victims rather than evacuees who merely failed to check in with authorities after fleeing their homes. Officials urged displaced residents to let their family members know they were safe.

OBLITERATED NEIGHBORHOODS

The Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, the largest city in the wine country region, was particularly hard hit by one of the fiercest blazes, the so-called Tubbs fire. Block after block of some neighborhoods were virtually obliterated with nothing left but charred debris, broken walls, chimneys and the steel frames of burned-out cars.

"It's like driving through a war zone," J.J. Murphy, 22, one of thousands of evacuees, said of the area around his home in the Sonoma Valley community of Glen Ellen.

Murphy, five relatives, a bird, a dog and two cats piled into their camper van to flee on Monday, he said.

"It's crazy how in just a few hours a place I've recognized all my life I can't recognize," he said at a roadside food stop in the town of Sonoma.

In the town of Napa on the first night of a blaze dubbed the Atlas fire, nearly 50 people who were in danger of being overrun by flames were rescued by the crews of two California Highway Patrol helicopters working in tandem during a seven-hour aerial evacuation operation.

43 PHOTOS
California's wildfire damages
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California's wildfire damages
Winemaker Pierre Birebent inspects a melted wine bottle among the burned out remains of the Signorello Estate Winery in Napa, California on October 11, 2017. More than 200 fire engines and firefighting crews from around the country were being rushed to California on Wednesday to help battle infernos which have left at least 21 people dead and thousands homeless. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Bicycles destroyed by wildfires are seen in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A car destroyed by wildfires is seen in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Homes destroyed by wildfires are seen in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A car destroyed by wildfires si seen in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A toy car is left scorched in a neighborhood destroyed by fire near Cardinal Newman High School on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A man retrieves coins from the ruins of his house in a neighborhood destroyed by fire near Cardinal Newman High School on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A statue of Jesus praying with arms raised is seen among fire damaged buildings at Cardinal Newman High School on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Burned wine barrels are seen at a destroyed Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A bubbling underground river of wine flows away from a burned Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Paradise Ridge Winery is seen burned to the ground in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned wine barrels are seen at a destroyed Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A destroyed Journeys End Mobile Home Park is seen in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Owner Rene Byck looks over remains of his Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California, on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A wild turkey wanders through a burned brush in Santa Rosa, California, on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mike Reynolds of the housing and community services department for the city of Santa Rosa places a red-tag sign on a burned down Arby's restaurant in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 10: A view of the remains of multiple homes that were destroyed by the Nuns Fire on October 10, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Fifteen people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 2,000 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 10: A view of the remains of a home that was destroyed by the Nuns Fire on October 10, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Fifteen people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 2,000 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The entrance to an Arby's restaurant is seen after burning down in Santa Rosa, California on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The remains of an Arby's restaurant is seen after burning down in Santa Rosa, California, on October 10, 2017. Firefighters encouraged by weakening winds were battling 17 large wildfires on Tuesday in California which have left at least 13 people dead, thousands homeless and ravaged the state's famed wine country. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: A neighborhood is destroyed by fire in the area of Foxtail Court, on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: A neighborhood is destroyed by fire in the area of Foxtail Court, on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A neighborhood is destroyed by fire in the area of Foxtail Court, on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A neighborhood is destroyed by fire in the area of Foxtail Court, on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: A man looks for something to salvage in a neighborhood destroyed by fire in the area of Foxtail Court, on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: The remains of a damaged buildings are seen after a wildfire moved through the area in Santa Rosa and Napa Valley in California, United States on October 10, 2017 leaving at least 10 people dead and destroying homes and businesses in their path. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: The remains of a damaged buildings are seen after a wildfire moved through the area in Santa Rosa and Napa Valley in California, United States on October 10, 2017 leaving at least 10 people dead and destroying homes and businesses in their path. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: The remains of a damaged buildings are seen after a wildfire moved through the area in Santa Rosa and Napa Valley in California, United States on October 10, 2017 leaving at least 10 people dead and destroying homes and businesses in their path. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 9: The Estancia Apartment Homes on Old Redwood Hwy. were completely destroyed on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 9: A Fountaingrove Village homeowner surveys her destroyed home she and her husband have owned for 4 years in Santa Rosa on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 9: A police officer looks over the destruction of a home in a neighborhood off Fountaingrove Parkway near the Hilltop in Santa Rosa on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Resident Louis Reavis views his burned classic Corvette at his home in Napa, California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned cars sit idle after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The William Hill Estate Winery sign is seen partially burnt in Napa, California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out wine bottles sit on a rack at the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Damage from the Napa fire is seen on a destroyed goat dairy farm on October 10, 2017 in Carneros a town just outside of Napa, California. Firefighters battled wildfires in California's wine region on October 10 as the death toll rose to 15 and thousands were left homeless in neighborhoods reduced to ashes. / AFP PHOTO / Amy Osborne (Photo credit should read AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Grape vines damaged by heat from wildfires are seen at a vineyard in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: Some houses burned and some did not. Aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: An American hangs outside a home burned down by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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The weather gave firefighters a bit of a respite on Tuesday as cooler temperatures, lower winds and coastal fog enabled them to make headway against the flames. Fire crews labored on Wednesday to strengthen containment lines as winds picked up again.

"We’re not out of the woods and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great number of days to come," Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said at a news conference.

In addition to high winds, fires were stoked by an abundance of thick brush and other vegetation left tinder dry by a summer of hot, dry weather and months with little or no rainfall. The cause of the fires remained under investigation.

Matt Nauman, a spokesman for the region's main utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, acknowledged that fallen power lines were widespread during the "historic wind event," which he said packed some hurricane-strength gusts in excess of 75 miles per hour.

FIRES ENTER RECORD BOOKS

At least 11 people were killed by the Tubbs fire in Sonoma County alone, officials said. It is the deadliest single California wildfire since 2003, when the so-called Cedar fire killed 15 people in San Diego, according to state data.

The latest overall death toll of 21, including six fatalities in Mendocino County and two more each in Napa and Yuba counties, marks the greatest loss of life from a California wildfire event in 26 years, since 25 people perished in a firestorm that swept the Oakland Hills in October 1991.

The deadliest wildfire on record in California dates back to October 1933, when 29 lives were lost in the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles.

Officials identified the dead in Napa County as 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife, Sarah. His body was found outside where his wife's bedroom once stood, their son, Mike Rippey, told local television.

"He was trying to get from his room to her room," he said."He never made it."

Wildfires have damaged or demolished at least 13 Napa Valley wineries, a trade group for vintners there said on Tuesday. But experts say smoke rather than flames may pose a greater risk to the delicate grapes still waiting to be picked.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in several northern counties, as well as in Orange County in Southern California, where a fire in Anaheim destroyed 15 structures and damaged 12.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Lam, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Diane Craft and Andrew Hay)

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