PARADISE, California: The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history has burned a further 8,000 acres and remained only 30 percent contained, California fire officials said yesterday as search teams resumed sifting through charred wreckage in a hunt for human remains. The “Camp Fire,” raging about 280 km north of San Francisco, has expanded to 125,000 acres, more than four times the area of the city, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.
The death toll remained at 42 people, the most on record from a California wildfire and 228 individuals were listed as missing. More than 7,600 homes and other structures were destroyed, also an all-time high. Much of the damage was concentrated in Paradise, a Butte County town of 27,000 that was virtually destroyed overnight Thursday, just hours after the blaze erupted. One hundred fifty search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive in the area yesterday, bolstering 13 coroner-led recovery teams in the fire zone, said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.
The sheriff has requested three portable morgue teams from the US military, a “disaster mortuary” crew, cadaver dog units to locate human remains and three groups of forensic anthropologists. Some 52,000 people remained under evacuation orders, Honea said. In Southern California, two people died in the separate “Woolsey Fire,” which 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. The Woolsey Fire was 35 percent contained, up from 30 percent a day earlier, Cal Fire said.
Nearly 9,000 firefighters have been battling the wildfires. Cal Fire said that 16 other states, including Oregon, Texas, Missouri and Georgia, have sent fire crews or other resources to combat the fires. Authorities were probing the cause of the fires. A spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission said on Tuesday the regulator has launched investigations that may include an inspection of the fire sites once Cal Fire allows access.
PG&E Corp, which operates in northern California, and Edison International, the owner of Southern California Edison Co, have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas where fires were reported around the time they started. Speaking to KRCR TV early Tuesday, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said prior to the outbreak of the Camp Fire, the site had not been “an area we were looking as a potential shut-off area.”
Winds of up to 60 km per hour were expected to continue in Southern California through Tuesday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes ignited by scattered embers. Cal Fire said 57,000 structures were still in harm’s way from the Woolsey Fire. Some evacuees in Malibu, a seaside community whose residents include a number of Hollywood celebrities, were allowed to return home Monday but found themselves without power or cellphone service.
California has recently endured two of the worst wildfire seasons in its history, a situation experts attribute in large part to prolonged drought across much of the western United States. President Donald Trump on Monday night declared a major disaster exists from the fires, making federal funds available to people and local government agencies in Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The pledge came two days after Trump blamed the brush fires on forest mismanagement, tweeting “Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” – Reuters