THE NEW YORK TIMES – THOMAS FULLER, RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
Hundreds of sleep-deprived, stubble-faced firefighters, their yellow coats layered with soot, assembled here Wednesday to hear their commanders say what they already knew: The fires that have devastated California’s wine country were still spreading, nowhere near containment, and the crews battling the blazes were stretched to their limits.
“I wish I could say the cavalry is coming — it’s not,” Battalion Chief Kirk Van Wormer of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, told the gathering of firefighters, flecks of ash raining down on them. “Look to your left and look to your right. Those are the people you are responsible for right now.”
Fanned by warm, dry winds, the fires have grown so big, so fast, that the immediate goal fire officials set was not so much to stop the spread as to slow it, to channel it away from threatened cities and towns, and to save lives. Saving homes and businesses was secondary.
Statewide, 22 major fires burned on Wednesday, having consumed 170,000 acres since the outbreak began on Sunday night. By Thursday morning, several of the fires had grown, and new ones had flared up. The confirmed death toll rose to 23 on Wednesday, from 17 a day earlier, with hundreds of other people reported missing, said Ken Pimlott, the chief of Cal Fire.