Update 2:45 p.m.: At least 100 homes were destroyed by a wildfire in Northern California's Lake County that raced through dry brush and exploded in size within hours, officials said Sunday. The devastation comes after a separate wildfire to the southeast destroyed at least 81 homes.
California Department of Forest Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant says wind gusts that reached up to 30 miles per hour sent embers raining down on homes and made it hard for firefighters to stop the Lake County blaze from advancing. Four firefighters were injured Saturday while battling the flames.
There's no official tally of the destruction yet because firefighters are focused on new evacuation orders and on residents' safety, he said.
"This has been a tragic reminder to us of the dangers this drought is posing," he said.
People were ordered Sunday to evacuate Clear Lake Riviera, a town with about 3,000 residents, and other areas near the blaze, Cal Fire said.
Residents streamed from Middletown Sunday morning and had to dodge smoldering telephone poles, downed power lines and fallen trees as they drove through billowing smoke.
Whole blocks of houses burned in parts of Middletown, where firefighters were driving around guardrails and flaming utility poles to put out spot fires Sunday afternoon.
On the west side of town, house after house was burned to their foundations, with only charred appliances and twisted metal garage doors still recognizable.
Homeowner Justin Galvin, 33, himself a firefighter, stood alone at his home, poking its shin-high, smoking ruins with a piece of scrap metal.
"This is my home. Or it was," said Galvin, who spent all night fighting another fire in Amador County.
George Escalona told The Associated Press that parts of his town, including his home, have burned to the ground.
In some areas of town "there is nothing but burned houses, burned cars," Escalona said, adding that he has nothing left but the clothes he was wearing.
Pathologist Kelli Chase, one of the evacuees from Middletown, says the town was "flattened" by the Valley Fire to KPCC. She and her husband had moved to the area from Southern California a little more than a month ago, and like many others, had to evacuate quickly.
"We were lucky to get out when we did," she told KPCC. "When we first saw it, it was up in the distance, and we thought, 'Oh, it's just going to stay up there just like one before ... this thing moved so fast, within an hour it was halfway to our house, and we started frantically packing up the car with whatever we could and hit the road."
Many hotels booked up quickly the previous night, some to the point where they had to turn people away, Chase said. She and her husband managed to find a room, along with a place that was able to keep their quartet of big dogs -- and one cat.
"It's been one mini-crisis to the next, and it hasn't really been able to sink in," she said. "There's still that shred of hope that, you know, maybe it spared our house."
Previously: Within 12 hours of igniting, the Valley Fire burning north of San Francisco had swallowed up more than 60 square miles of land, injured four firefighters and burned highways and buildings, prompting an emergency declaration from Gov. Jerry Brown and forcing thousands to flee.
The declaration frees up resources for the blaze, burning about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
Captain Emily Smith of Cal Fire told KPCC that more than 5,000 residents were without power, and that more than 1,000 fire personnel are concentrating on fighting the blaze, which grew from 50 acres to 40,000 in a matter of hours. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were evacuated.
The firefighters, all members of a helicopter crew, were airlifted to a hospital burn unit, where they were being treated for second-degree burns and were listed in stable condition, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
Berlant also said Sunday there's no definitive figure of how many homes the Valley Fire has destroyed, but it numbers in the hundreds.
Brown had declared a state of emergency for the Butte Fire, a separate 101-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed at least 86 homes, and turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white.
Crews increased containment on that blaze to 20 percent by early Sunday.
The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, destroyed 86 homes, 51 outbuildings and was threatening about 6,400 more.
"I lost my business — it's all burned up — my shop, my house, 28 years of living," said Joe Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch. "I got to start all over. It's depressing."
Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.
"I turned the pens open and turned them lose. I just couldn't gather them up," he said. "All we want to do is go home. It's miserable."
More than 3,850 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, and more we expected to join the firefight. Its cause is under investigation.
Meanwhile, new evacuation orders were issued Saturday for the largest wildfire in the state, threatening to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 201 square miles, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Firefighters cleared brush around the Grant Grove and set prescribed burns to keep the flames from overrunning it. By Saturday, the backfiring and monitoring efforts appeared to have helped protect the treasured trees, the Fresno Bee reported.
The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet tall. There are dozens of Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada, and some trees are 3,000 years old.