California's deadliest fire finally tamed

Search and rescue teams look for the remains of victims in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California on Nov 16, 2018.
Search and rescue teams look for the remains of victims in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California on Nov 16, 2018. PHOTO: NYT

LOS ANGELES • The deadliest and most destructive fire in California's history has finally been brought totally under control, more than two weeks after it erupted.

The so-called Camp Fire, which broke out on Nov 8, is so far known to have killed 85 people.

The Butte County Sheriff's Department on Sunday said it had mistakenly added two people to an earlier death toll of 87. It also raised the number of missing people from 249 to 296 - far lower than the 474 reported missing last Friday.

Only 54 of the fatalities have been identified, said the sheriff's office in Butte County, a rural area north of the state capital Sacramento. The fire affected a total of 62,100ha, with nearly 14,000 homes and hundreds of other structures destroyed.

Heavy rain that soaked the fire zone in the past days helped douse the remaining flames, but also made it more difficult for crews searching for bodies.

The Camp Fire was the second big blaze to hit California in recent weeks, with a fire in the Malibu area near Los Angeles killing three.

The smoke from the Camp Fire was so intense that schools in San Francisco had to close at one point, as did the city's famed cable car.

 
 

California's Governor Jerry Brown has warned that the state can expect more major fires as a result of global warming.

US President Donald Trump, who visited one of the worst-hit towns called Paradise last weekend, caused some consternation by saying the fires were due in part to forestry mismanagement.

Ahead of the announcement that the fire has been totally tamed, the authorities had already begun letting residents return to some of the worst-hit areas to inspect the damage to their homes.

In a joint bulletin last Saturday, the police and fire service said evacuation orders were being lifted for both residents and non-residents, while warning that essential services were still very limited.

While Mr Brown has warned that mega fires such as those in Butte and Malibu will cease to be abnormal events, the state has allocated about US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) over the next five years for fire prevention. Much of the cash will go to education and suppression activities such as clearing of vegetation.

But many experts are calling for more curbs on housing being built in forests as a means of eliminating danger before the blazes even break out. A recent study found that one-third of all houses in the US now are located in what researchers refer to as the wildland-urban interface, where houses and forest vegetation intermingle.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'California's deadliest fire finally tamed'. Print Edition | Subscribe