Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

California Wildfires Growing, At Least 21 Dead

A wildfire tearing through California's wine country continues to expand unabated, prompting authorities to order more evacuations. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday it ordered mandatory evacuations for several areas of Sonoma Valley after a blaze grew to 44 square miles. After a day of cooler weather and calmer winds, officials say dangerous gusty winds will return to the region Wednesday afternoon, complicating firefighters' efforts. The blaze in Sonoma County is one of a series of fires that flared up north of San Francisco on Sunday night and continue to burn with little to no containment. 21 people have died in the blazes, 11 of them in Sonoma County. The fires have also left at least 180 people injured and have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses.

The return of cooler weather and moist ocean air is helping an army of firefighters gain ground against a wildfire that has scorched more than a dozen square miles in Southern California. Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi says the fire has laid down significantly Wednesday due to the marine layer and the work of more than 1,600 firefighters and a fleet of aircraft. Concialdi says the blaze is 45 percent surrounded and full containment is expected by Saturday, but commanders are holding onto resources because of forecasts for another round of gusty winds and low humidity levels starting Thursday night. Incomplete damage assessments have now tallied 15 structures destroyed and 12 damaged, including homes and outbuildings. All evacuations have been lifted except for certain homes in the city of Orange. The fire erupted Monday about 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles as warm, dry Santa Ana winds swept the region. The cause remains under investigation.