Winds ease, rain possible, offering hope in California wildfires

(ABC NEWS) -For the nearly 11,000 firefighters battling the towering flames from now 15 wildfires around California, there is finally hope in a chance of rain.

Despite one less fire, the bone-dry conditions and gusty Diablo Winds still haven’t receded, forcing officials to not downgrade the “high fire danger” status, CAL Fire Deputy Incident Commander Chief Barry Biermann said during a press conference in Napa County on Sunday.

As Bierman gave the fire prognosis for the charred region, he stressed that we are “not out of the woods yet,” but settled many questions by saying there’s been “tremendous progress.”

These low humidity, gusty wind conditions continue to mire first responders engaged in the fight to defeat the blazes that have turned to ash so much of the rolling hills that compromise the state’s prized wine country.

Meanwhile, emergency vehicles have since returned to Santa Rosa Policeheadquarters so crews can recuperate, and forecasters predict that Santa Rosa could get a dose of rain by Thursday.

As Northern California’s fires get tamed and weather brings possible precipitation, Southern California is seeing Santa Ana winds starting to gain strength.

As a result, officials have placed the region 300 miles south under extreme fire weather warnings as well.

The glimmer of hope comes after emergency personnel carried out mandatory evacuations in Northern California on Saturday and as firefighters fought what had been 16 large wildfires around the state that authorities say left hundreds missing and leveled entire neighborhoods.

On Saturday night, officials announced the death toll increased from 38 to 40.

The blazes — among the deadliest in the state’s history — have charred more than 217,000 acres of land, forced about 75,000 residents to evacuate and damaged or destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 in Sonoma County, was among the hardest-hit areas, with at least 2,834 homes, businesses and other buildings destroyed there. Critical infrastructure was also lost in the flames, including the city’s fire station, according to Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey.

With firefighters stretched thin throughout the Golden State, hundreds of additional fire engines and personnel have been requested from other states to help relieve crews on the front lines and to prepare for the possibility of more blazes, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Most of the fires ignited on the night of Oct. 8 or during the early morning hours of Oct. 9. Since then, several blazes have merged while some have been completely contained. The cause of the wildfires is still under investigation.