California wildfires

Death toll to rise amid search for bodies

Mr and Mrs Chris Brown of the town of Paradise looking at the burnt remains of their house after wind-whipped flames tore through the region, leaving death and devastation in their wake.
Mr and Mrs Chris Brown of the town of Paradise looking at the burnt remains of their house after wind-whipped flames tore through the region, leaving death and devastation in their wake.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An investigator from the Fresno County Sheriff's Department searching the remains of a home at Ridgewood Mobile Home Park on Monday, in the aftermath of the Camp Fire blaze in Paradise, California.
An investigator from the Fresno County Sheriff's Department searching the remains of a home at Ridgewood Mobile Home Park on Monday, in the aftermath of the Camp Fire blaze in Paradise, California.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Camp Fire, Woolsey Fire 30% contained as more personnel join search teams

PARADISE (California) • Search teams fanned out across the charred landscape of Paradise, California, looking for human remains yesterday as the authorities prepared for a rise in the death toll from the state's deadliest wildfire.

The Camp Fire blaze still raging in northern California has killed at least 42 people. Another 228 have been listed as missing, said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

Two people died in the separate Woolsey Fire that has destroyed 435 structures and displaced about 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near Southern California's Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.

Camp Fire - already ranked as the most destructive on record in California in terms of property losses - has consumed more than 7,100 homes and other structures since igniting last Thursday in Butte County's Sierra foothills, about 280km north of San Francisco.

A total of 150 search-and-recovery personnel were expected to arrive and take part in the search for victims yesterday, bolstering 13 coroner-led recovery teams in the fire zone, Sheriff Honea said.

He has also requested three portable morgue teams from the US military, a "disaster mortuary" crew and cadaver dog units to assist in the search for human remains. Three groups of forensic anthropologists were also called in to help, he said.

The bulk of the destruction and loss of life occurred in and around the town of Paradise, where flames reduced most of the buildings to ash and rubble last Thursday night. Some 52,000 people remained under evacuation orders, he added.

The 42 confirmed fatalities is the highest death toll in history from a single California wildfire, Sheriff Honea said, surpassing the total of 29 lives lost in 1933 from the Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles.

 

The fires have spread with an erratic intensity that has strained firefighting resources and caught residents by surprise. The authorities are investigating the cause of the fires.

The bodies of some of the Camp Fire victims were found in burned-out wreckage of vehicles that were overrun by walls of fire as evacuees tried to flee.

More than 15,000 structures were threatened on Monday by the fire in an area so thick with smoke that visibility was reduced in some places to less than 800m.

Crews have managed to carve containment lines around 30 per cent of the Camp Fire perimeter.

To the south, Woolsey Fire was also 30 per cent contained as of Monday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Winds of up to 64kmh were expected to continue in Southern California through yesterday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes ignited by scattered embers.

CalFire said 57,000 structures were still in harm's way from the Woolsey Fire.

 

  • 42

    People killed by the Camp Fire blaze still raging in northern California.

    228

    People listed as missing.

    435

    Structures destroyed in the separate Woolsey Fire; two people have died and about 200,000 people displaced.

Nearly 9,000 firefighters, many from out of state, were battling to suppress the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire and a handful of smaller Southern California blazes, including the Hill Fire in Ventura County. They were backed by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers.

California has endured two of the worst wildfire seasons in its history over the past couple of years, a situation experts attribute largely to prolonged drought across much of the western United States.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2018, with the headline 'Death toll to rise amid search for bodies '. Print Edition | Subscribe