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3 killed in Northern California wildfire as thousands flee wine country

Easing winds gave California firefighters a break on Tuesday as they battled a destructive wildfire that was driven by strong winds through wine country north of San Francisco and another rural fire that killed three people.

Diminishing winds gave firefighters break Tuesday as they deal with at least 30 wildfires in region

Eagle Field Fire Department firefighter Mark Jones extinguishes hot spots during the Glass Fire in St. Helena, Calif., on Monday. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/The Associated Press)

Easing winds gave California firefighters a break on Tuesday as they battled a destructive wildfire that was driven by strong winds through wine country north of San Francisco and another rural fire that killed three people.

Lighter breezes replaced the powerful gusts that sent the Glass Fire raging through Napa and Sonoma counties on Sunday and Monday, scorching more than 170 square kilometres.

At least 95 buildings have burned in wine country, including homes and winery installations. A wildfire burning farther north in rural Shasta County has destroyed another 146 buildings.

The fire in wine country pushed through brush that had not burned for a century, even though surrounding areas were incinerated in a series of blazes in recent years.

As the winds eased on Monday evening, firefighters were feeling "much more confident," said Ben Nicholls, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

The Glass Fire burns in the hills of Calistoga, Calif., on Monday. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/The Associated Press)

"We don't have those critical burning conditions that we were experiencing those last two nights," he said.

The Glass Fire in wine country is one of nearly 30 wildfires burning around California. The National Weather Service warned that hot, dry conditions with strong Santa Ana winds could continue posing a fire danger in Southern California through Tuesday afternoon.

In a forested far northern part of the state, more than 1,200 people were forced to flee in Shasta County because of the Zogg Fire, which has burned at least 160 square kilometres.

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Three people have died in the fire, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said Monday. He gave no details but urged people who receive evacuation orders: "Do not wait."

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

Residences are widely scattered in Shasta County, which was torched just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire — infamously remembered for producing a huge tornado-like fire whirl.

The Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) utility had cut power to more than 100,000 customers in advance of gusty winds and in areas with active fire zones. The utility's equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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A historic fire season this year

By Monday night, the utility said it had restored electricity to essentially all of those customers. However, PG&E said about 24,000 people remained without power in areas affected by two fires in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties.

So far in this year's historic fire season, more than 8,100 California wildfires have killed 29 people, scorched 14,970 square kilometres and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.

Sonoma County supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her property in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa, Calif., at about 1 a.m. Monday local time. She is rebuilding a home damaged in the 2017 fires.

Gorin said she saw three neighbouring houses in flames as she fled early Monday.

"We're experienced with that," she said of the fires. "Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who've lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West."

Charred wine bottles rest at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga that were damaged in the Glass Fire on Monday. (Noah Berger/The Associated Press)

Not getting much of a break

The fires came as the region approaches the anniversary of the 2017 fires, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were forced to leave from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.

"Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break," said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with Cal Fire.

Officials did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the blaze engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery in St. Helena and at least one five-star resort.

Fire worries were developing across Southern California, although it was unclear how strong the predicted Santa Ana winds would become. Heat and extreme dryness were also expected to create problems.

Conditions were also hot, dry and windy in parts of Arizona, where the Sears Fire in Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix has grown to more than 36 square kilometres since it erupted on Friday. Authorities reported zero containment.

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