Thousands flee as wildfires ravage California; at least 17 killed

Massive wildfires sweeping through parts of California have killed at least 17 people and damaged more than 2,000 residences and other buildings, according to authorities.

Firefighters were battling dozens of fires across multiple counties in the state as of Tuesday, authorities said. Intensified by strong winds, the fires charred over 115,000 acres of land, destroyed at least 2,000 buildings and forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate.

St. Joseph Health said about 170 patients have been treated, many for burns and smoke inhalation, at three of its hospitals, including two in Sonoma County, where at least 11 people died of fire-related injuries. Authorities have 183 unresolved missing person reports, according to one Sonoma County official.

“Personally, I think this will be one of the worst natural disasters in California history,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Tuesday evening at a town hall in Santa Rosa, California.

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Burned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood, Oct. 9, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Sonoma County Sgt. Spencer Crum told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on “GMA” that the county has asked everyone to “help us out” in the battle against the blazes.

The shifting gusts that dogged firefighters have eased, he added.

“The night before this, we had 60 mph winds, which is the reason why you have such devastation here,” Crum said.

He confirmed that the alert system put in place gave residents ample time to evacuate and likely prevented many deaths.

“We have a subscription service where we can alert our residents, and we did that right away, trying to notify everybody where the fire was, where it was going and how fast it was going, and I think it saved a lot of lives,” Crum said.

SLIDESHOW: PHOTOS: Wildfires rage through California wine country

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Officials with the California Highway Patrol described one of the dead as an elderly woman who was blind…

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