The California Wildfires Have Killed 31 People & 400 Are Still Missing

by Chris Tognotti

California is currently engulfed in one of the worst wildfires on record, with multiple counties throughout the northern half of the state battling ferocious, unpredictable blazes that have proved hugely challenging to contain. As of Friday afternoon, a total of 31 people have died in the Northern California wildfires, making them the deadliest in the history of the Golden State.

The amount of damage to homes and communities has been staggering as well. The city of Santa Rosa, engulfed by the massive Tubbs fire, has seen entire neighborhoods burned to the ground, leaving behind what resembles a nearly post-apocalyptic scene. Fires have similarly ripped through much of the nearby wine country.

Although 31 people have been confirmed dead so far, it seems grimly plausible that the number will continue to increase in the days to come. Some 400 people were still reportedly missing as a result of the fires as of Thursday, and according to Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano, the process of searching for bodies could take weeks or even months to fully complete.

"We will do everything in our power to locate all the missing persons, and I promise you we will handle the remains with care and get them returned to their loved ones," Giordano said, while noting that it'd be "unrealistic" for him to deny that the death toll is likely to increase.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the combined spread of the fires ― mainly the aforementioned Tubbs fire and the Atlas fire, as well as an additional blaze in Mendocino County ― have torched an estimate 180,000 acres of land, and more than 3,500 buildings have reportedly been razed, including at least one fire station.

California is no stranger to aggressive, unpredictable, and damaging wildfires. Throughout the summer months, they're virtually a ritual throughout Southern California, aided by a hot sun, dry inland air, and whipping winds. For the entire year of 2016, a full 500,000 acres of California land were burned by wildfires, although not to nearly so deadly an extent; only six civilians and one firefighter were slain, as compared to the 31 confirmed deaths that have occurred in just the last several days.

The worst of last year's fires was the Soberanes fire, which was set off by an illegal campfire, and ended up being one of the most expensive in American history, taking more than three months to extinguish. It burned up an estimated 132,000 acres on its own, but in terms of the human cost, it wasn't nearly as bad as what's transpired in Northern California this year.

Just one person was killed in the Soberanes, a bulldozer operator named Robert Reagan, and it burned down a reported 57 residences, less than 2 percent of the property damage caused by this year's blazes.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In short, the damage that's been done to broad swaths of Northern California is almost incalculable, and it figures to be quite some time before the full cost, both in dollars and human lives, is apparent. It's not just impacting the people in the path of the fire, either ― the entire Bay Area is currently living under a thick haze of smoke, at times effectively blotting out the color of the sky overhead. According to authorities, it's the worst air quality the Bay Area has ever experienced.

It's undeniable that emergency workers are making progress, however, and that's a positive sign for the days to come. As of Friday afternoon, according to Bay Area NBC affiliate KRON-4, firefighters have reportedly achieved 25 percent containment on the Tubbs fire, and 27 percent containment on the Atlas fire. Just two days ago, both fires were at 0 percent containment, showing a clearly positive trend in how things have been progressing.