California wildfires destroy nearly 500 homes

One California wildfire erupted Saturday afternoon and rapidly spread prompting the evacuation of entire towns along a 35-mile stretch of State Route 29. Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Firefighters create a firebreak near a home in Middletown, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Two of California's fastest-burning wildfires in decades overtook several Northern California towns, killing at least one person and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.

This weekend, wildfires prompted the evacuation of thousands of homes along a 35-mile stretch of California's Route 29, as a state of emergency was declared.

Nearly 500 homes were destroyed and at least one person died in two fires in northern California.

Adding to the loss of property, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials also counted two apartment complexes and 10 businesses destroyed by the flames, department spokeswoman Lynn Valentine said.

Valentine couldn't provide details on the circumstances of the death.

Teri Molini, a Middletown, Calif. resident, said in an interview with the Associated Press, that she first got word of the fire Saturday afternoon and raced out of her house with the family dog, blankets, and mementos. Four hours later, she could see the flames from where she sought shelter.

"We said, 'OK, this thing's a beast," Molini said.

Another area resident, Laura Streblow, evacuated Hidden Valley Lake with her boyfriend on Saturday night and was tracking developments on social media and through friends, told Reuters she had heard that "Middletown is basically gone."

The 78-square-mile fire erupted Saturday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from four years of drought. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of State Route 29 were evacuated. Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency to free up resources.

Brown had already declared a state of emergency for a separate 102-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed at least 81 homes and turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white.

The mountain town of Cobb was hit first Saturday afternoon, and the blaze reached Middletown before sunset a few hours later, Cal Fire spokeswoman Amy Head told Reuters. The two communities, each with a population of roughly 1,500, were among the areas that bore the brunt of the flames.

A combination of drought and a heat wave last week had left vegetation tinder dry and highly combustible, setting the stage for a conflagration that thwarted the best efforts of firefighters to contain it, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

"Every time they made progress, the fire would burn right past them," he said, adding that embers carried by the wind were sparking new blazes and enlarging the fire zone.

The San Jose Mercury News offers contact information for fire updates and how to help those in need:

How to get information about current fires: Fire Updates:

How to help: The American Red Cross cannot accept bedding and clothing at its shelters and is asking for online donations, specified for "Valley Fire clients" or "Butte Fire clients" at

How to get help: Valley Fire victims, the Lake County OES says if fire victims who need help can call 800-325-9604, which will connect to the appropriate resources to get aid.

How to locate individuals and families: The Red Cross offers this "Safe and Well" website to search for loved ones or register yourself:

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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