Fire officials say one person is dead as California's fastest wildfire in recent history continues to race across the north end of the state. It's the blaze experts had feared all summer: At least 400 homes have been destroyed in Lake and Napa counties, with flames initially ripping through 40,000 acres in just 12 hours. "There aren't very many fires in California's history that have done that. I don't know if there really is a precedent for it," a scientist tells the Los Angeles Times. "This fire sort of broke the rules," he adds. "It is kind of mind-boggling." The fire got so large that it created its own wind conditions. "As fire crews would make progress—hold the fire—it would burn right past them," a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection rep says. It's now scorched an area roughly 75 square miles and containment is at zero, per the Times.
A fire department rep says the blaze may have started as a structure fire that quickly escaped "outside of the structure." Embers caught on the wind, then ignited spot fires up to a mile away where dense vegetation has been dried by hot temperatures and drought conditions. Residents of Middletown, home to 1,000, say half the town has been turned to ash, including a hot springs resort and brand-new elementary school. It's "the worst tragedy Lake County has ever seen," says a sheriff. Fire officials add that the number of homes destroyed in the area could reach 1,000 as "crews have not had a chance to do a full damage assessment," per the Sacramento Bee and CBS San Francisco. "We are going to be amazed at the number of structures lost there," adds a rep for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "There are people who are going to be homeless." (Read more California stories.)