California fires: Scores missing as death toll rises to 15

Flames from a wildfire consuming a home east of Napa

Wildfires sweeping through some of California's most prized wine regions have damaged at least 15 wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties, vintners and industry representatives said Tuesday.

■ Signorello Estate, a family-owned, ivy-draped winery along the scenic Silverado Trail in Napa, was also engulfed in flames.

Fourteen fires were simultaneously raging across northern California on Tuesday morning (AEDT), covering about 29,500 hectares, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Pacific Gas & Electric said more than 196,000 customers had initially lost electricity although half had had their power restored.

"Essentially, we are in a mode of saving lives and getting people out of harm's way at the moment", one firefighter said in an interview Monday night.

The city of Santa Rosa and its 175,000 residents felt much of the damage, with strip malls, business parks, hotels and subdivisions swallowed up by the fire.

"Many residents had little time to flee due to the fires' rapid and erratic rate of spread through the rural terrain". The firefighting agency Cal Fire tweeted that as many as 8,000 homes were threatened in Nevada County, which lies on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes across Orange County late Monday night.

In Southern California, most evacuation orders have been lifted as firefighters successfully battle a wildfire that destroyed 14 buildings, a lot of them homes.

A woman reacts as she searches the remains of her family's home destroyed by fires in California.

"It was an inferno like you've never seen before", said Marian Williams, who caravanned with neighbors before dawn as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards and ridges at her small Sonoma County town of Kenwood.

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"We got our grapes in last week but others still have grapes hanging", he said.

As Northern California smolders, counties in the southern part of the state are also under evacuation orders as the 7,500-acre Canyon 2 Fire threatens Orange County.

Residents who gathered at emergency shelters and grocery stores said they were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the flames.

Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke, prompting officials to ask that the public "only use 911 if they see actual unattended flames, or are having another emergency".

Most of the damage was in Santa Rosa where the fires destroyed homes, melted the glass off of cars and turned wheels into liquid, according to the AP.

"Sonoma and Napa counties have been hit very hard", Alexander said. They were unable to evacuate their home in time.

Forest fires are common in the western United States during dry, hot summer months.

"We just had to run and run".

"Right now, with these conditions, we can't get ahead of this fire and do anything about the forward progress", Biermann said.