By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The death toll from the deadliest rash of wildfires in California history has risen to 43, after a 17-year-old girl who was badly burned in the fires earlier this month died at a hospital, officials said on Monday.
The spate of wind-driven wildfires erupted on Oct. 8 in the heart of California wine country and consumed at least 245,000 acres (99,148 hectares) across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay area.
An estimated 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes, some at a moment’s notice as flames swept whole neighborhoods. Authorities have said the conflagration may have been sparked by power lines toppled in the same high winds that swiftly spread the flames.
Some 8,900 dwellings and other structures were incinerated, including entire subdivisions in the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, which sustained the greatest losses.
The latest victim, 17-year-old Kressa Shepherd, died on Sunday at a Sacramento-area hospital, a clerk with the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office said.
The teenager was declared brain dead after undergoing surgery and suffering cardiac arrest, according to a fund-raising website established by relatives.
It said she had been found badly burned and disoriented in a driveway after her family tried to escape flames advancing on their home in the Redwood Valley area of Mendocino County early on Oct. 9. The website said the family’s car caught fire as they tried to outrun the blaze, forcing them out of the vehicle.
Shepherd’s 14-year-old brother, Kai, died that day, the website said. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office later reported the discovery of his body. The parents were also badly burned, according to local media.
A spokeswoman for the family could not immediately be reached for comment.
The addition of Kressa Shepherd’s death brought the overall number of fatalities from the so-called North Bay fires to 43, including one firefighter, marking the greatest loss of life from a single wildfire event in California.
The tally far surpasses the 29 deaths from the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles and the 25 fatalities from a firestorm that swept Oakland Hills in 1991.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)