The ferocity of the flames was captured in a video released by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, showing a deputy driving through Franz Valley Road, near where a raging fire entered from Napa County.
More recently, California levied a $1.6 billion state penalty for a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed about three dozen homes in San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco.
"It's not going to be anywhere what we saw", said Brian Garcia, a meteorologist with the weather service. "It is very dynamic".
It was unclear how numerous missing might be fire victims rather than evacuees who merely failed to check in with authorities. "There were times at night when my street was like a freeway", Hammar said.
As of Wednesday, 22 wildfires were burning in Northern California, up from 17 the day before. Some 170,000 acres were burning. Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Washington state, along with the U.S. Forest Service, were sending reinforcements - crews, bulldozers and fire engines, Pimlott said. Still, he said he expects most of the people reported missing to be found safely. "The devastation is enormous", he said.
Describing the fight against a multidimensional event, Cox laid out firefighters' priorities: "To protect people's lives and get them out of harm's way, to protect the structures and also to build containment lines where we do have the opportunities of engagement".
The dead vegetation "has accumulated and increases the likelihood of unusually large wildland fires", according to Cal Fire.
So far, the fires have been thriving on low humidity and dry conditions. And in the town of Sonoma and the community of Boyes Hot Springs, officials issued an evacuation advisory.
NPR's Eric Westervelt, reporting from Calistoga, spoke with Colin Curtis, who has been eyeing with concern the rapidly moving fires. "That just shows that no one is safe anywhere around here".
More than 20,000 people were ordered to evacuate as of Tuesday night.
As a result, many people turned to social media, posting pleas such as "Looking for my Grandpa Robert", "We are looking for our mother Norma" or "I can't find my mom".
Noting that fire officials made similar pronouncements when the Butte fire ravaged rural Northern California counties in the fall of 2015, Pimlott added, "I think we've raised the bar".
"She's spunky, she's sweet, she loves bingo and she loves the beach, she loves her family", Jessica Tunis, crying, told the AP. Now that I'm back in Santa Rosa, I'm experiencing first hand the chaos of these fires - firetrucks and police maintaining the safety of our city on every street corner, the orange haze of smoke filling the once clean air, and the sight of Santa Rosa citizens walking down the sidewalks with their faces covered by masks.
"I want to go up and see what's there", he said, "and I don't want to go, you know?" Great state. Especially with those in Napa.
October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires, but it is unusual to have so many fires take off at the same time. "This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over", Brown said at a news conference Wednesday, alongside the state's top emergency officials.