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California fires death toll likely to rise, 10,000 firefighters deployed

Staff Writer |
Fast-moving fires spread by shifting winds forced thousands more Californians to evacuate their homes on Saturday as the death toll from the deadliest blaze recorded in the state's history rose to at least 40, with hundreds of people still missing.

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More than 10,000 firefighters supported by air tankers and helicopters overhead were battling 16 major wildfires, some encompassing several smaller merged blazes, in areas north of San Francisco that have consumed nearly 86,000 hectares over seven days, or roughly 865 square kilometres - an area larger than New York City.

The 40 confirmed fatalities, including 22 in Sonoma County, already make it the deadliest fire event in Californian history.

Some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes, including 3000 evacuated on Saturday from the city of Santa Rosa, about 80km north of San Francisco.

"This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced. The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined," California Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to a devastated Santa Rosa.

The fires have damaged or destroyed about 5700 structures, reducing homes and businesses to ash.

The fires' death toll surpassed the 29 deaths from the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.

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