California Wildfire: Firefighters Gain Ground But Thousands of Buildings Threatened

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By Erin McClam

The roaring wildfire threatening thousands of homes in the drought-parched mountains north of San Francisco grew to 70,000 acres on Wednesday as firefighters slowly gained ground against it.

California fire officials said late Tuesday that the blaze, known as the Valley Fire, was 30 percent contained, up from 10 percent just a day earlier.

It has destroyed at least 585 homes and hundreds of other structures, and fire officials said 9,000 more buildings were in danger. The fire killed an elderly disabled woman on Saturday, the day it broke out.

Firefighters worry not just about the towering flames but about hot ash and embers that can flutter for miles and extend the reach of the blaze. The fire has feasted on land parched during the historic drought in Northern California.

“Sounds like that sucking sound. People describe it as a jet plane,” firefighter Bill Viera of the Marin County force told NBC News.

The Valley fire and a second blaze, the Butte fire, burning outside Sacramento, have forced at least 23,000 people from their homes. They have recorded dramatic video of their escape and told wrenching stories of lost homes.

The Butte fire is about the same size but more under control: California authorities said Wednesday that it was 45 percent contained. That fire has destroyed more than 200 homes and threatens 6,000 other buildings.