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Update: Northern California Wildfires Death Toll Climbs To 31

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Update at 7 p.m.: The death toll continues to climb in the Northern California blazes marking a tragic new record.  The wildfires have now killed 31 people making this the deadliest week of wildfires in state history. Sonoma County officials report tonight that two more people have been confirmed dead. The single deadliest fire was the 1993 Los Angeles Griffith Park fire that claimed 29 lives. (Below are also details of CAL Fires investigation into what sparked the blazes and whether the warning system did its job.)

Update at 4:45 p.m.: The Northern California wildfire death toll has risen to 29. The Yuba County Sheriff has confirmed that four people died in the over 10,000 acre Cascade Fire, which is burning 100 miles north of several blazes in wine country. CAL Fire reports hundreds of people are still missing and loved ones looking for missing relatives are asked to register them on the Red Cross website.

Original post at 1:30 p.m.: CAL Fire is trying to determine what sparked the deadly Northern California blazes and whether the warning system did its job.

The wildfires are already well on their way to becoming the deadliest in California history and show no signs of slowing down. Steady winds with gusts up to 45 mph and humidity plunging near zero are expected to descend on the areas north of San Francisco where the death toll is now 24. As of today, as many as 18 fires are burning in nine counties and an estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated.

CAL Fire investigators are looking into whether downed power lines and other utility equipment failures might have sparked the massive wildfires sweeping through the wine country. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Janet Upton stated that it’s unclear if downed power lines and live wires resulted from fires or started them.

CAL Fire Chief Ken Pimlot recognizing that there was not much time to warn residents “by any means” as the flames ripped through whole communities Sunday night wants an assessment on the state’s alert system, which include text messages, phone calls, emails and tweets. Those methods will be checked to determine whether it was even possible to reach everyone with so little time to react, according to state authorities.

Additionally, the heavy smoke in the skies is creating delays and has even caused some airlines to cancel flights in Northern California including more than 80 Thursday at San Francisco International Airport. The average delay time for flights is 30 to 45 minutes at that airport. However, the Federal Aviation Administration notes that some arriving flights have been delayed more than three hours.

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