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Firefighters have stopped the spread of a series of wildfires that have been burning mostly in Sonoma County for more than a week, but the number of deaths in the blazes has risen to 42, and 50 people are still considered missing, officials said.
"We have a lot of work to do still. We have a lot of hot areas on these fires, but we have stopped the forward progress and movement of all these fires. We have line around them," Bret Gouvea, incident commander for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Twenty-three people have been confirmed dead in the fires in Sonoma County, which started on Oct. 8 and 9, Sheriff Rob Giordano said. About 250 volunteers are doing targeted and blanket searches to find 50 people who remain missing, he said.
"We're searching every place that burned for a victim we may have missed," Giordano said. He said that he toured the area by air and that "I could not believe how much burn damage, and how many houses are burned."
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Firefighters are "doing a great job. They're shutting this down," Giordano said. "But it's not going to go away — we're going to be dealing with this for months and years in the county."
Eight people have been confirmed dead in Mendocino County, seven have been reported dead in Napa County and four have been killed in Yuba County, officials have said. One of the dead was the driver of a private water tender assigned to the the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, who was killed in a vehicle rollover.
Firefighters were battling 13 large fires on Wednesday across California that have burned more than 210,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. More than 22,000 people remained out of their homes across the state vecause of fires, according to the agency.
More than 5,800 homes and other structures have been destroyed in Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties. Most of the structures were destroyed in the Central LNU fire, which is burning mostly in Sonoma County but also in Napa County, according to Cal Fire.
Gouvea said Wednesday that the Pocket Fire, which has burned more than 12,000 acres, was 63 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire, which has burned more than 36,000 acres, was 91 percent contained; and the Nuns Fire, which was burned more than 54,000 acres, was 80 percent contained.
In Napa and Solano counties, the Atlas Fire has burned more than 51,000 acres and was 83 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
Over the last 24 hours, more than 6,000 people have been allowed to return to homes that had been threatened by the three fires burning mostly in Sonoma County, and so far the department has repopulated more than 42,000 people to over 17,700 homes that were not destroyed, Gouvea said.
Officials urged patience in dealing with traffic congestion as people return.