Wildfires already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history could gain momentum Thursday and erase even the modest gains firefighters have made. Steady winds with gusts up to 45mph with nearly non-existent humidity are expected to descend on the areas north of San Francisco, where at least 23 people have died and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, the AP reports. "It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," says state fire chief Ken Pimlott. Entire cities have evacuated in anticipation of the next wave, their streets empty, the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.
The 22 fires spanned more than 265 square miles as they entered their fourth day, many of them completely out of control. Modern, strategic attacks that have kept destruction and death tolls low in recent years just haven't worked against their ferocity. As the fires grow, officials voiced concern that separate blazes would merge into even larger infernos. "We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over," Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference Wednesday, alongside the state's top emergency officials. They said 8,000 firefighters and other personnel were battling the blazes and more resources were pouring in from Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon.