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Thousands Evacuate as California Wildfires Kill 11

A wildfire moves closer to North Tustin homes along the 261 freeway in Tustin, Calif. on Oct. 9. A wildfire moves closer to North Tustin homes along the 261 freeway in Tustin, Calif. on Oct. 9.

More than a dozen fast-moving wildfires tearing through California have killed at least 11 people, destroying hundreds of homes, authorities said Monday.

Fanned by winds of over 50 miles (80 kilometers) an hour, the blazes have forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate in the country's heaviest populated state since they began Sunday night, AFP reported.

California's fire service said about 73,000 acres (30,000 hectares) have been ravaged by the major infernos. At least 1,500 buildings were destroyed as the state declared an emergency in three counties ravaged by intense fires, mostly in its famous wine-producing regions.

Fourteen major fires are burning in total. Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties are covered by Governor Jerry Brown's order. The counties are north of San Francisco Bay.

An AFP correspondent in the Santa Rosa area witnessed multiple explosions from gas lines or gas tanks, in addition to charred out homes and a winery. Fire trucks were out in force in that area, he said.

About 410 firefighters are working on blazes in Mendocino, a sheriff's spokesman in that county told the CBS news network, adding that multiple fatalities were expected.

According AP, a northern California county says it has received more than 100 missing-person reports as family and friends scramble to locate loved ones while wildfires ravage the state. Scott Alonso, communications director for Sonoma County, says the reports have come via calls to a hotline the county set up for the missing.

It is possible that many or most of the missing are safe but simply can’t be reached because of the widespread loss of cell service and other communications.

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