As search for hundreds of missing persons is still ongoing, 23 people have died so far as a result of the wildfires in the US state of California.
In some areas in Sonoma County, the wildfires that have ravaged tens of thousands of acres died down enough Wednesday for the sheriff's department to check on more than 600 missing persons reports by visiting burned-out neighborhoods.
In many other cases, detectives used telephones to track down people who are unaccounted for.
Still, 285 people remain missing in just this one county, people who authorities pray are still alive but have no way to contact police or their loved ones.
But there is some dread that the death toll -- 23 in the region -- from the Northern California wildfires will rise as more areas cool down and searchers discover what's left.
"I'm optimistic that we will get a lot of people connected," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said.
"At the same time we have to be realistic and start searching for the ones we found are missing."
Firefighters battling 22 blazes were challenged Wednesday by blustery conditions and shifting winds.
Gusts had died down early this week, but on Wednesday they blew between 20 and 40 mph and conditions were still extremely dry, with low humidity and no rain.
More than 20,000 people had been ordered to evacuate as of Wednesday, and authorities were encouraging others to pack "ready-to-go bags" with documents and medicines in case they had to flee the fast-spreading flames on a moment's notice.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team