Northern California wildfires: Firefighters continue to battle blazes, hope for reprieve

The deadly wildfires that have ravaged Northern California, killing at least 21 people, caught many residents by surprise, sweeping into their neighborhoods after they had gone to bed and leaving them precious few minutes to escape.

Some evacuated in the nick of time. Others weren't as lucky. And nearly everyone in the region is grappling with near-apocalyptic devastation — homes burned to a crisp, once-idyllic communities turned into ash-covered shells.

"You can see folks' cars parked in their driveways. They didn't even have a chance to get into their cars and drive them away in some cases," said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. "This was at night. People were asleep, so they were woken and they ... ran for their lives."

Karissa Kruse, who lost her home in the hard-hit Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, was awoken by a knock on her door at 2:30 a.m. Monday morning. It was a neighbor, telling her they had to leave immediately.

"We took about 10 minutes to scoop up the cats, grab my ID," Kruse, who is the president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, told NBC News. "You realize how very little anything material means to you when you're in that situation."

RELATED: 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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As one of the fires rushed toward the sprawling Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa on Sunday evening, staff told guests that they had to get out — immediately. Many guests left behind belongings as they fled.

"The winds picked up phenomenonally fast," said Julie Maurer, vice president of marketing for the resort, adding that employees were sent to knock on all guest room doors when the fire came dangerously close to the 350-acre property.

With little containment, fire crews were desperate for the relief of cooler temperatures and weakening winds that came Tuesday.

Authorities continued to grapple with containing the 22 firestorms raging simultaneously across the state's wine country, including Napa and Sonoma counties, where fierce winds and months of dry weather helped to kindle the flames.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said at least 115,000 acres had burned so far — about 2½ times the size of Washington, D.C. Firefighters from across California and Nevada were called in as reinforcements.

Related: Wineries at Risk as Wildfires Rage in Northern California

"The fires are still out there, and they are still actively growing," Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said at a news conference.

Forecasters said the renewed threat from offshore winds and lower humidity could return Wednesday, hindering any progress.

The two largest fires — the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and the Atlas Peak Fire in Napa County — torched 28,000 and 26,000 acres, respectively. The Tubbs Fire remains uncontained, and the Atlas Peak Fire is only 3 percent contained.

At least 3,500 homes and commercial structures were destroyed, many in Santa Rosa, a city of more than 167,000. Pacific Gas & Electric said late Tuesday afternoon that about 75,000 customers remained without power, 50,000 of them in the Santa Rosa area.

At least 185 people had been treated for injuries at three hospitals run by St. Joseph Health of Sonoma County, the system said Tuesday. Most were treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, many of them suffering respiratory-related conditions, it said.

Three patients remained in intensive care, and six others were transported to dedicated burn centers, the health system said. At least four women went into active labor during the fires and delivered their babies at Petaluma Valley Hospital, it said.

Napa Valley Vintners, the trade association for America's premier wine region, said four wineries "suffered total or very significant losses due to the fire."

At least nine others reported some damage, said the association, which cautioned that it had yet to hear from some wineries in the most vulnerable areas of the valley.

Officials said they were still concerned about safety and urged residents not to try to return home.

Sonoma County officials have fielded about 240 missing-persons reports, Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters, 57 of whom had been found by Tuesday afternoon. 

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, visited the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services to get a read on the situation.

"It is heartbreaking to think that many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable, in some cases senior citizens who were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes," Pence said.

Among them were Charlie Rippey, 100, a World War II Army veteran, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara, in Napa County. A son, Chuck Rippey, told NBC Bay Area that his parents' caregiver was unable to escort them to safety before the roof caved in.

"All the windows started to explode," Rippey said. "Smoke and heat, all that everywhere. And she just couldn't find them."

The Rippeys, who were originally from Wisconsin, celebrated 75 years of marriage with all five of their children on March 20, an event that was marked at the time by The Napa Valley Register.

Charlie Rippey, a mechanical engineer by trade who turned 100 in July, rose to captain during World II, serving in Europe and North Africa, the newspaper said. Sara Rippey was a homemaker who was devoted to bridge.

Another son, Mike Rippey, told The Associated Press from London that he and his brothers and sisters didn't believe either of their parents could have soldiered on without the other.

"We knew there's no way they would ever be happy, whoever was the last one," said Rippey, who was making preparations to fly to Napa. "So they went together, and that's the way it worked."

John Bailey, an associate professor of forest engineering, resources and management at Oregon State University, said a perfect storm allowed the intense blazes to ravage Northern California.

Photos: Massive Wildfires Consume Homes Across Northern California

"Hot, dry conditions, and then throwing in winds, really expands burnability," he said, adding: "We just have an unprecedented amount of fuel on our landscapes."

Collectively, the fires are among the deadliest in the state's history. The last single fire to kill as many people was San Diego County's Cedar Fire in October 2003, which destroyed 2,200 homes and was started accidentally by a hunter.

Authorities said it's too soon to know how the new blazes started. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to the state's request for federal funds to help with the recovery. 

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