40 now dead from Northern California wildfires

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The Latest on California's wildfires (all times local):

5:45 p.m.

The death toll from wildfires burning in Northern California has reached 40.

Sonoma County announced Saturday evening that its coroner had confirmed two more deaths, taking the total in the county to 22 and the overall count to 40.

The toll had been 35 coming into Saturday, and it is expected to keep growing.

The fires were already the deadliest group of simultaneous blazes in California history.

No details were released on the newly announced dead, but it is likely the people were killed soon after the fires broke out nearly a week ago and their bodies were just discovered.


5:30 p.m.

People driven from their homes by a Northern California wildfire had pointed questions for fire and law enforcement officials at a news conference.

Travis Oglesby asked Saturday when people in his Santa Rosa neighborhood could return home, saying they are "on pins and needles" and have been hearing about looting.

Buffi Frazier wanted to know why some of her neighbors didn't get calls warning them to leave. She also said the call she received on her home phone was unclear about whether she should evacuate.

Sonoma County sheriff Rob Giordano said officials were looking into those issues.

He said there were multiple notification systems, including reverse 911 calls to landlines. He also said some people didn't get notices because the fire moved so fast.

The questions came from at a news conference for Gov. Jerry Brown and the state's two U.S. senators, but after they had left.


3:30 p.m.

Authorities say they are sorting 300 unresolved missing persons reports, but they don't believe the death toll related to the wildfires in California will be anywhere near that number.

Napa County spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said investigators were trying to resolve 74 missing persons cases.

Sonoma County has about 220 unresolved missing person reports. Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum says most of the reports are from faraway friends and relatives, and the missing just hasn't reached out to them yet.

A family that had been searching for a Santa Rosa couple since Monday said they finally found the pair Saturday.

Chrystal Couto said her grandmother, who doesn't own a cellphone, had left voicemail messages to family members after she safely evacuated, but the messages were never received. Couto spent days distributing flyers of the missing couple at evacuation centers.

She said her grandmother didn't know anyone was looking for her when she called a friend Saturday from her hotel in San Francisco.


3 p.m.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein say they have never seen a more destructive and deadly wildfire in their lifetime.

The comments from the longtime Californians come as they, along with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet with emergency responders and local residents.

Brown called the disaster "one of the greatest tragedies California has ever faced." He told residents the danger remains and urged them to evacuate when asked to do so.


2 p.m.

Three more deaths have been confirmed from the wildfires burning in Northern California, bringing the total to 38.

The Napa County Sheriff's Office announced two more deaths there on Saturday, taking their total to six. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says the 20th body in the county has been found in the city of Santa Rosa.

Those deaths take the toll to 38 for what was already the deadliest series of fires in California history.

No details were released on the dead, but it is likely the people were killed soon after the fires broke out nearly a week ago and their bodies were just discovered.

The increased presence of law enforcement officers to help people get out of homes has made the fire areas safer even as new flare-ups occur.


12:30 p.m.

State fire officials say they halted a wind-driven run of flames spreading into the city of Sonoma.

Deputy state fire director Dave Teter said Saturday that a minimal number of structures were burned, but that no further damage was expected after firefighters stopped the advancing blaze.

The number of dead from the weeklong fires in Northern California remained at 35, and the number of destroyed homes stood at 5,700.

Teter says plans are in the works to allow some evacuees to return to their homes, but they haven't been put in place yet.

With high winds and dry weather statewide, more fire crews and equipment such as helicopters are being staged in Southern California in preparation for any fires there.


11:30 a.m.

Authorities say about 100,000 people are under evacuation orders as the wildfires in Northern California burn for a sixth day.

As a flare-up drives hundreds more to flee on Saturday, some people who have been evacuated all week are demanding to get back into their homes.

Douglas and Marian Taylor stood outside their apartment complex in Santa Rosa on Saturday morning with their two dogs and a sign that said "End evacuation now."

Their building was unharmed at the edge of the evacuation zone with a police barricade set up across the street. The couple said they're spending about $300 per day to rent a motel and eat out, and they want to return home because the fire doesn't appear to be a threat to their apartment complex.


11 a.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are set to visit the fire zones as massive wildfires continue to burn in California wine country.

They're scheduled to attend a community meeting Saturday afternoon in Santa Rosa, a city hit hard by the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

Brown has remained in Sacramento this week, where he issued emergency declarations and secured federal disaster relief.

His office said Friday that with some conditions improving and firefighters making progress on a number of wildfires, he will visit the areas affected by the blazes.

The fires that began Sunday night have claimed 35 lives and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. About 100,000 people are under evacuation orders.


9:30 a.m.

Fire crews made progress this week in their efforts to contain the massive wildfires in California wine country, but officials say strong winds are putting their work to the test.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says winds picked up to 20 mph (32 kph), with gusts up to 40 mph (64 kph), early Saturday. They pushed the fire closer to several communities, forcing new evacuations for about 400 homes.

Dean Vincent Bordigioni said he woke up at 3 a.m. to see flames bursting on the ridge above his winery 7 miles (11 kilometers) east of Santa Rosa. He says things "went to hell last night," and firefighters have "got a good fight going on."

CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant says fire crews have spent days digging defense lines to keep the flames from spreading to residential areas. But he says officials are concerned the winds will blow embers and ignite new fires.


8 a.m.

Winds kicked up overnight, forcing new evacuations for about 400 homes as wildfires continue to rage in California's wine country.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Saturday the affected areas include the Oakmont retirement community that was evacuated earlier in the week when fire ravaged portions of Santa Rosa.

CalFire spokesman Jonathan Cox says the fire also reached a sparsely populated part of Sonoma, a town of 11,000, and has burned some structures.

The fires have caused an unprecedented amount of death and destruction in the state, with officials reporting 35 dead and 5,700 homes and businesses destroyed. Those numbers make this the deadliest and most destructive series of fires California has ever seen.

Although firefighters made progress in containing the fires Friday, officials say the winds on Saturday are testing the work they accomplished.