California wildfires: Camp fire is state’s deadliest with 42 dead

More than 200,000 people displaced across the state and 8,700 fire crews deployed

A Reuters cameraman films a fast-moving wildfire in the evacuated upscale beach community of Malibu. The blaze broke out at the edge of the Plumas National Forest northeast of Sacramento on November 8th.

 

Convoys of fire engines rumbled through the smouldering northern California town of Paradise on Tuesday on their way to combat still-active sections of the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in history, which grew by 8,000 acres.

Teams of workers wielding chainsaws cleared downed power lines and other obstacles from the streets, while forensics teams mobilised to resume their search for human remains in the charred wreckage of the town, which has a population of 27,000 and was almost completely consumed by fire last Thursday, just hours after the blaze erupted.

The Camp Fire, as the blaze is known, continued to rage in Butte County, about 280km north of San Francisco, and expanded to 50,500 hectares (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 stood at 42 people, the most on record from a California wildfire. More than 7,600 homes and other structures burned down, also an all-time high.

A burnt car and a petrol station after the Camp fire tore through the region near Pulga, east of Paradise, California on Monday. Photograph: AFP
A burnt car and a petrol station after the Camp fire tore through the region near Pulga, east of Paradise, California on Monday, November 12th Photograph: AFP

Some 228 people were still unaccounted for and listed as missing. Officials asked relatives and friends to keep checking with evacuation shelters and call centres in the hope many of them could be located.

The fire was 30 per cent contained, suggesting a “big chunk” was under control, but full containment was not expected until the end of November and the progress would depend largely on the wind and the weather, Cal Fire spokeswoman Erica Bain said.

“Thirty per cent is kind of where we’re getting close to rounding the corner. When we’re the 30s and 40s, they’re getting a good handle on it. By the end of this week I’d like to see that number up to 40, maybe 45,” Bain said.

A Cal Fire spokesman said firefighters were more optimistic than in previous days, although he warned some populated areas were still at risk because of steep terrain and unpredictable gusts.

“Things look much better than yesterday, due to weather conditions,” Scott McLean told a briefing.

Chris and Nancy Brown look over the remains of their burned residence after the Camp fire tore through Paradise, California on Monday. More than 200 people are still unaccounted for, according to officials. Photograph: AFP
Chris and Nancy Brown look over the remains of their burned residence after the Camp fire tore through Paradise, California on Monday, November 12th. More than 200 people are still unaccounted for, according to officials. Photograph: AFP

Morgue teams

Some 150 search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive in the area on Tuesday, 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 and 8,700 firefighters from 17 states have been battling the wildfires.

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 per cent contained, up from 30 per cent a day earlier, Cal Fire said, as authorities reopened a number of communities that had been under evacuation orders.

The remnants of a home destroyed in the Woolsey fire are seen November 12th, along Mulholland Highway in the hills above Malibu Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty
The remnants of a home destroyed in the Woolsey fire are seen on November 12th, along Mulholland Highway in the hills above Malibu Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

Authorities were investigating the cause of the fires. A spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission said on Tuesday the regulator had 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.

US president Donald Trump on Monday night declared a major disaster, making federal funds available to people and local government agencies in Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The pledge came two days after Mr Trump blamed the fires on forest mismanagement, tweeting “Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” – Reuters