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California fire toll rises to 40

The death toll from California’s wildfires rose to 40 on Sunday (Oct 15) but firefighters reported progress in battling the flames, and thousands of evacuees were gradually being allowed to return home.

The wealthiest US state regularly faces late-summer fires. But the blazes which have burned more than 217,500 acres this month, and devastated the winemaking areas of Napa and Sonoma, proved the deadliest in the state’s history.

“Sadly, the death toll has risen to 40 people,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said Sunday on its website. The toll had previously stood at 38.

Cal Fire said 22 of the victims died in Napa and Sonoma counties, just north of San Francisco.

The agency separately reported “good progress” against the 15 major fires now burning, a drop from 16.

“As progress has been made on several fronts, many evacuations have been able to be lifted. As of Sunday morning, nearly 75,000 people remain evacuated,” Cal Fire said. A total of 100,000 people had been forced from their homes.

“Winds across Northern California have been fairly light this morning,” Cal Fire said, although it said gusty winds prevailed in the state’s south.

Almost 11,000 firefighters from various states are in action against the California blazes.

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