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At least 10 dead, thousands evacuated as wildfire ravages California

Officials say at least seven more people have died in fast-moving wildfires in California wine country, bringing the total number of fatalities to 10.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Monday that seven fire-related deaths were reported from fires there.

California fire officials reported earlier that two people died in Napa County and one died in Mendocino County.

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Thousands flee deadly wildfires in California wine country

 A spate of wildfires fanned by strong winds swept through northern California’s wine country on Monday, leaving at least one person dead, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and chasing some 20,000 people from their dwellings.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, encompassing some of the state’s prime wine-making areas, as the blazes raged unchecked and engulfed the region in thick, billowing smoke that drifted south into the San Francisco Bay area.

Two hospitals were forced to evacuate, state officials said. At least one person was killed in Mendocino County, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said, declining to release further details.

It was not immediately clear when the person died. KGO-TV in San Francisco, citing unnamed California Highway Patrol officials, reported a second fatality – a blind, elderly woman found dead in the driveway of her home in Santa Rosa. Reuters could not immediately confirm her death.

Thousands of firefighters battled wind gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) that have rapidly spread 15 separate wildfires across some 73,000 acres in eight northern California counties since erupting late Sunday night, according to CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

About 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed throughout the region, Ken Pimlott, director of CalFire, said at a news conference.

The blazes included the so-called Tubbs fire in Napa County, about 70 miles (113 km) north of San Francisco in an area world-famous for its vineyards. It had scorched about 25,000 acres (10,117 hectares) of land as of late Monday morning, according to CalFire.

John Van Dyke, recalled standing in his pajamas near the 101 Freeway in Santa Rosa, watching a hillside in flames from the Tubbs Fire, when police pounded on his door in the mobile home park early on Monday, telling him to evacuate.

“When I got in the car to leave, a whole section of the mobile park was in flames,” he said. “It scared the hell out of me.”

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San Francisco authorities issued an air quality alert due to smoke from the fires, which residents said they could smell since early in the morning.

“You can’t see anything, the smoke is very dense,” Fred Oliai, 47, owner of the Alta Napa Valley Winery, told Reuters by telephone. He said he has not been able to get close enough to his vineyards since he was evacuated to see if flames reached his 90-acre property.

In addition to potential damage to vineyards from fire itself, experts say sustained exposure to heavy smoke can taint unharvested grapes, and Oliai said wine makers in the area are nervous.

“We got our grapes in last week, but others still have grapes hanging,” he said.

The region threatened by fires overlaps an area accounting for roughly 12 percent of California’s overall wine production by volume but also where its most highly valued grapes are grown, said Anita Oberholster, a professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis.

A separate wildfire on Monday torched at least a half-dozen homes in the affluent Anaheim Hills neighborhood of Southern California’s Orange County.

That blaze erupted along the 91 Freeway next to an off-ramp and spread quickly in gusty winds to scorch at least 2,000 and (809 hectares) in a matter of hours, fire officials said at a news conference.

Authorities in the cities of Anaheim, which includes Anaheim Hills, and Orange ordered hundreds of residents to evacuate.

So far this year, some 7,700 wildfires in California have burned about 780,000 acres statewide as of Sunday, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Keith Coffman in Denver and Gina Cherelus and Joseph Ax in New York; Writing Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown and Diane Craft)

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