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Northern California Wildfires Become Larger

FILE - This photo provided by KATU-TV shows a wildfire as seen from near Stevenson, Washington, across the Columbia River, burning in the Columbia River Gorge above Cascade Locks, Oregon, Sept. 4, 2017.
Northern California Wildfires Become Larger
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Wildfires continue to spread in northern California.

American weather experts were predicting high winds and low humidity levels in the area on Thursday. Such conditions are making it difficult to stop the 22 major wildfires north of San Francisco.

The fires are blamed for at least 23 deaths. About 300 other people are listed as missing. California officials say at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump declared part of northern California a disaster area. His declaration makes the area eligible for assistance from the federal government.

The fires

The state's forestry department fire chief, Ken Pimlott, is helping to direct the 8,000 firefighters struggling to contain the wildfires. He called the fires "a serious, critical, catastrophic event."

This week, police blocked many roads and prevented residents from going to neighborhoods destroyed by the fires.

Dave Larson lives in the Sonoma County community of Glen Ellen. He returned to his neighborhood to look for his cats.

As he looked at the damage, he noted that some of his neighbors' homes had survived. Larson said he regretted he had not stayed, like his neighbors, standing on the housetop and fighting the fire with his water hose.

Larson told VOA that he lost many objects that were valuable to him, including his grandfather's gun.

"One thing I really kick myself for not grabbing before the fire came was my grandfather's 100 year old Lebel rifle that he was shot with in World War II. And it was in perfect condition. And as you can see, this is what's left. The bayonet is still attached. It's amazing. It was still sitting right next to my flat screen TV, which is also completely melted."

Gordon O'Brien is a fire captain from Alameda, California. He said when a fire is coming fast, there is little people can do except save themselves.

On Wednesday, O'Brien and his crew were working on protecting buildings instead of fighting the fire.

"We're not focusing a whole lot right now on the actual containment – at least my aspect of it… We're focusing on structure protection and dealing within the fire lines to stop anything else from burning down."

History of fires in the region

Northern California has experienced many large fires in the past - although the current wildfires are the deadliest in recent memory.

In 2012, a wildfire known as "Rush" burned over 110,000 hectares. In 2013, the "Rim" fire burned over 100,000 hectares and destroyed more than 100 structures.

Homes burned by a wildfire are seen, Oct. 11, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Homes burned by a wildfire are seen, Oct. 11, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Strong, dry winds blow across the countryside from the mountains. These winds put northern California at a high risk for wildfires in the late summer and early autumn.

State officials said they do not know the exact cause of the current fires. They say anything from a backfiring car to a burning cigarette can start a fire.

In the past, people, lightning, and even powerlines have caused wildfires in northern California.

It will be weeks before the exact amount of the damage is known. But for now, residents are just trying to make it through this fire safely.

I'm John Russell.

Michelle Quinn and Deana Mitchell reported on this story for John Russell adapted their report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

humidity – n. the amount of moisture in the air

eligible – adj. able to be chosen for something; able to do or receive something

hose – n. a long, usually rubber tube that liquids or gases can flow through

backfire – n. a loud sound a car makes when fuel is not burned properly

resident – n. someone who has lived in a place for some length of time