Environment & Science

Valley Fire: 4th worst wildfire in California's history destroys 1,050 homes

The ruins of a home that burned in the Valley Fire are seen on September 15, 2015 in Middletown, California.
The ruins of a home that burned in the Valley Fire are seen on September 15, 2015 in Middletown, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Crews made gains overnight on one of the worst wildfires in California history, mopping up hot spots and strengthening control lines after it and two other blazes in the northern part of the state have combined to kill several people and destroy nearly 1,600 homes.

In the smallest blaze, a body was found outside his burned-out car after flames ignited this weekend in Monterey County, but authorities said they were investigating the man's death as a possible suicide.

The Monterey County coroner planned an autopsy Monday to determine the cause of death. The coroner hasn't released the man's name pending notification of his family.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials say they haven't determined the cause of the fire and whether the man's suicide played a role. The 1,086-acre fire has destroyed 10 homes and was 30 percent contained Monday morning.

In the Valley Fire about 100 miles north of San Francisco, damage-assessment teams have counted 1,050 homes destroyed by the blaze, many of them in the town of Middletown, making it the fourth-worst wildfire in state history based on total structures burned, Cal Fire said.

The Lake County fire, which has killed at least three people and charred 118 square miles, was 70 percent contained Monday. About 3,500 homes were still at risk.

A map of parcels of land in Hidden Valley where structures were damaged or destroyed in the Valley Fire as of Sept. 20, 2015:

Scribd map

A 1991 fire in the Oakland Hills ranks as California's deadliest fire and its worst in the number of structures destroyed, with 2,900.

Meanwhile, crews this weekend counted more homes destroyed by the Butte Fire 200 miles south of San Francisco. The fire, which has killed at least two people, was more than 70 percent contained. It still was threatening thousands of structures, but all evacuation orders have been lifted.

The fast-moving flames that started Saturday in Monterey County destroyed or damaged 10 homes. A firefighter lost his home while battling the blaze, said Eric Walters, a spokesman for the Cachagua Fire Protection District.

"I was out fighting the fire on the other end, and then my whole place burned down," Bob Eaton, a volunteer firefighter with the Cachagua Fire Protection District, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "My parent's house, right below me, it burned down. And my neighbors up on top, their place is burned down."

Eaton said firefighters' quick response wasn't enough to save some of the homes.

"It just went so damn fast," he said of the spread of the fire.

This story has been updated.