Efforts to contain the fires have been made more difficult by high winds, low humidity, and parched lands.
“This is a serious, critical, catastrophic event,” said Pimlott, the Cal Fire chief.
Scores of others have been injured or reported missing, and more than 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed — including at least one fire station.
The counties boast world-class vineyards and opulent wineries set against a backdrop of undulating hills and rolling fields; but the scene now resembles what one resident described as “Armageddon.”
One witness described the scenes as something out of a war zone, saying: “It looks like a bombing run. Just chimneys and burned-out cars and cooked trees.”
In Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, the situation appeared dire. Thirteen deaths were reported across the county by Thursday morning, and countless structures were decimated by fires.
After first igniting late Sunday, the fires — at least 22 in all — remained largely uncontained, and may continue spreading, with dangerous winds whipping back up.
Among the residents who have been forced to evacuate include patients at threatened hospitals.
As the infernos continued to rage, concerns spread that the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma could suffer significant damage.
As residents returned to their homes to survey the damage, many are finding not much more than charred heaps of rubble and debris.
The swimming pool where Daniel and Cindy Pomplun took refuge as the Tubbs fire burned through their home in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Stuart Palley/FTWP)
The scene as wildfires devastate Northern California?s wine region