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Toll Rises To 34 Dead As Catastrophic Fires Spread In Northern California

One teen died when his family tried to outrun the fire. An older woman stopped breathing in her husband’s arms as they fought to survive in a pool.

14/10/2017 2:10 PM AEDT | Updated 14/10/2017 2:10 PM AEDT

Wildfires continued to spread through Northern California on Friday, turning swathes of forest, ranches, wineries and whole neighbourhoods to ash in its path. It's been labelled California's deadliest wildfire.

At least 34 people have been reported dead, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection could only confirm 32 to HuffPost.

So far, 5,700 homes and buildings have been destroyed in the multiple blazes, according to The Associated Press. That's 2,200 more than the last report released by Cal Fire hours earlier on Friday morning, estimating 3,500 structures damaged.

An estimated 90,000 people have been forced from their homes as fires have burned throughout a 300-square-mile area.

Mary Welna, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, told HuffPost Friday afternoon that among those killed were 18 were in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, two in Napa County and four in Yuba County.

The Napa County Sheriff's Office told HuffPost later Friday that there were two more victims reported in Napa County, bringing the toll in that county to four and the total number of victims to 34, but a Cal Fire spokesperson said the agency had not yet received that update.

As officials worked to identify victims, stories of devastation and panic emerged in local media.

Fourteen-year-old Kai Logan Shepherd died in Mendocino County's Redwood Valley fire as he and his family attempted to outrun the blaze, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.

Courtesy of Mindi Ramos
Kai Logan Shepherd (bottom right) was killed in the fire as he and his family attempted to outrun the flames.

Mindo Ramos, who said she was Kai's aunt, told HuffPost that the boy's body was found in the family's driveway.

Kai and his parents, Jon and Sara Shepherd, and his 17-year-old sister, Kressa, were trying to flee their mountain home by car down their mile-long driveway, local news station KTVU Fox 2 reported. When the car caught fire, the family got out and started to run.

The Shepherds' neighbor later found Sara and Kressa badly burned, and Kai was already dead. Jon Shepherd had made it farther down the mountain and was found by firefighters.

"Sara and Kressa both sustained burns on 60% of their bodies," Ramos wrote of her family members on a crowdfunding page she launched. "Jon sustained burns on 45% of his body."

"The home they built is gone," she added. "The life they knew is gone. Kai Logan is gone. Our hearts are broken."

Armando and Carmen Berriz, both in their 70s, tried to escape the flames that engulfed their Santa Rosa vacation rental by jumping into a swimming pool, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Berrizes were staying at the rental for a few days with their daughter and her husband, Monica and Luis Ocon. As the older couple followed a caravan of cars down the road to escape the fires, a tree fell in front of their car, forcing them to get out and walk back to the house, where they jumped into the pool, CNN reported.

For hours overnight, the couple, married 55 years, held on to each other in the water, breathing in smoke as the homes around them burned. Once the fire began to recede, Carmen Berriz stopped breathing in her husband's arms. Armando Berriz survived.

The family said they believe Carmen Berriz died of smoke inhalation.

"They were a team," Luis Ocon told CNN of his in-laws. "They counted on each other."

County officials have been releasing lists of names of the people who have been confirmed dead.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office told HuffPost that 10 of the 18 victims in Sonoma County had been identified as of Friday evening. More than 450 people are still unaccounted for, according to The Mercury News.

Sonoma County

  • Carol Collins-Swasey, 76, Santa Rosa

  • Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, Santa Rosa

  • Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, Santa Rosa

  • Suiko Grant, 75, Santa Rosa

  • Donna Mae Halbur, 80, Larkfield (Santa Rosa)

  • Leroy Peter Halbur, 80, Larkfield (Santa Rosa)

  • Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, Santa Rosa

  • Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, Apple Valley, Calif.

  • Michael John Dornbach, 57, Calistoga, Calif.

  • Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67, Santa Rosa

Three of the eight victims in Mendocino County had been identified

Mendocino County

  • Kai Logan Shepherd, 14, Redwood Valley

  • Roy Howard Bowman, 87, Redwood Valley

  • Irma Elsie Bowman, 88, Redwood Valley

The Napa County Sheriff's Office told HuffPost it has confirmed four fatalities. Officials say they still have been unable to locate 46 people reported missing.

Napa County

  • Sara Rippey, 98, Napa

  • Charles Rippey, 100, Napa

"Sara and Charles Rippey, 98 and 100, died Sunday when they were unable to escape their Napa home. A caregiver reportedly tried to rescue the couple but the wind-whipped fire quickly engulfed the home and caused the roof to cave. The couple had celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary just months earlier. Their remains were found close together," reported the Press Democrat.

  • Dr. George Chaney, 89, Napa

  • Edward Stone, 79, Napa

The Yuba County Office of Emergency Services told HuffPost it has not released the names of its four confirmed fire victims. It reported that one person remains missing in the area.

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