(CBS NEWS) – The death toll fromcontinues to climb. Firefighters now say 17 people have died. Seventeen wildfires are burning across the state and have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses. Much of the destruction is concentrated in the heart of California’s wine country – and the state’s governor has declared a state of emergency.
People across Northern California are now returning to where their homes used to be. For many of them, all that’s left are piles of wood and cement. A 100-year-old man and his 98-year-old wife died in Napa County when they couldn’t escape the oncoming flames. That couple had known each other since grade school, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.
“It looks just like somebody dropped a bomb on our lives,” said Ruben Lopez.
Just one month ago, Lopez, his wife and three young children moved into their house. Now, it’s unrecognizable – blackened by the raging fire.
“You’re waking your kids up, trying to make it out as you can see a scary glow of light coming just right over the hill,” Lopez said.
The Lopez family is just one of hundreds who lost everything.
“We looked out and it was all engulfed in a matter of moments,” said nurse Julayne Smithson.
Smithson helped evacuate intensive care patients as she watched her own home nearby burn to the ground. She bought it just three weeks ago.
“I really didn’t think about my home at that point,” Smithson said. “Our goal was that patient, that’s my focus that was my assignment, I had to deliver and that was the focus.”
“It hit so fast, they just didn’t have a chance,” said Mike Rippey.
Rippey’s parents Charles and Sara were married for 75 years. The two died together when the fire reached their home.
“My mother had a stroke and she couldn’t move very well at all and my father certainly never would have left her,” Rippey said.
“My kids are safe, my wife, our dogs, my parents. There’s going to be a lot of work to rebuild. It’s going to take a community effort to really get this back to what it is,” Lopez said.
The Atlas Fire is just one of 17 fires burning in Northern California — and it’s just three percent contained.