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In Photos: This Year's Deadly California Wildfires Could Set Record For Most Damage

Over 7,000 wildfires have blackened more 650,000 acres in the state, with two of this year's most intense fires still mostly out of control.
September 16, 2015, 4:05pm
Photo par Kent Porter/EPA

Cooler temperatures, calmer winds, and sporadic precipitation on Wednesday seem to have helped California firefighters get the upper hand on two devastating wildfires that have hit the drought-stricken state.

But news of a third death as a result of the blazes — the two most intense to hit the state this year — highlighted the consequences of one of the state's worst fire seasons on record.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention spokesperson Daniel Berlant said in a tweet that the Calaveras County Coroner confirmed the death, according to Reuters. It was the second death attributed to the so-called Butte Fire, which has scorched nearly 71,000 acres in the Western Sierra Nevada and consumed nearly 450 structures since erupting September 9.

The Valley Fire, centered north of the state's famous wine country, exploded Saturday and had consumed nearly 74,000 acres by Thursday morning, destroying 585 homes and hundreds of other structures. One death has resulted from the fire, but four people remain missing, Reuters reported.

The two fires forced the evacuation of 20,000 people, some of whom have begun returning home as fire teams gain better control over the conflagrations.

#ButteFire [update] east of Jackson (Amador & Calaveras Counties) is now 70,760 acres and 49% contained. http://t.co/EF4lnPaeKR

— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 17, 2015

#ValleyFire [update] in southern Lake County is now 73,700 acres & 35% contained. http://t.co/ggH21VbYzf

— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 17, 2015

Ana Malachowski, who was picking through the ruins of her brother's home in Middletown, which was hit hard by the Valley Fire, said she was "just numb."

Malachowski said she and her neighbors tried to beat back the fire with garden hoses on Saturday before being forced to flee. Though her own house was still standing, "This whole town is a big family," she told Reuters. "You can't say, 'This family lost their home and this one didn't.'"

Sporadic drizzle on Wednesday allowed firefighters to turn a corner on the Valley Fire.

"We've been on the offensive for the last few days now, but we're going to take advantage of what Mother Nature has given us and work harder to get more containment line in," Cal Fire spokesman Rich Cordova said, according to Reuters.

An apartment complex in Middletown, California with well over 100 units was destroyed by the Valley Fire. (Photo by Ken Porter/EPA)

Maria Sanchez surveys her home after it was destroyed over the weekend by the Valley Fire in Middletown, California. (Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA)

California has been hit by more than 7,000 wildfires this year that have blackened more than 650,000 acres, according to Reuters. And the means 2015 could surpass 2008 for the greatest number of fires and most acres burned in a single year.

The Valley and Butte fires are among the top 20 most destructive wildfires in state history, even as they continue to burn. But they pale in comparison to the 1991 Oakland fire that leveled 3,200 buildings and a 2003 blaze in San Diego that destroyed 2,800 structures.

But California is not alone, as thousands of wildfires have broken out across the West, already consuming 9 million acres. And the costs of containing those fires has been mounting, topping $1 billion in every year since 2006, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

Wildfire season typically peaks in October.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman (L) gets a hug from a resident whose home was saved by a strike team from Sonoma County. (Photo by Ken Porter/EPA)

A US flag hangs at the entrance to a home destroyed over the weekend by the Valley Fire in Middletown, California. (Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA)