At least 11 dead after separate Californian wildfires

Temporary calm allows assessing of damage after blaze that burnt 109 sq miles around LA

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.

 

A wildfire that tore through Malibu mansions and working-class suburban homes in southern California has killed two people and more than doubled in size.

Wildfires currently burning across California are so far known to have resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including nine found dead in a massive fire in northern California that destroyed the town of Paradise.

Officials took advantage of temporarily calm conditions to assess damage from the Malibu blaze that burned 109 square miles north and west of Los Angeles.

Firefighters were searching burned-out neighbourhoods after two blazes that have already destroyed 150 homes.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s chief John Benedict said two people were found dead but provided no details on the deaths.

In the south, a smoky haze persisted amid blue skies, with strong winds that had driven the flames over two days gone and expected to stay away until Sunday. Firefighters scrambled amid the window of calm to try to block the two wildfires.

In less than two days, the Hill and Woolsey fires prompted evacuation orders for more than 250,000 people, including the entire city of Malibu, home to some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities.

The lull on Saturday could give firefighters a chance to control the edges of the blazes and to swap fire crews, replacing firefighters who had worked for two days without rest, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.

With winds set to return, it is likely more homes would be lost, Mr Osby warned. “There’s not going to be any relief in this firefight,” he said.

By late Friday night, the smaller Hill fire’s advance had halted, but the Woolsey fire kept surging. The two fires erupted on Thursday as warnings of extreme fire danger covered much of the state because of dry weather and blowing winds.

In northern California, a wildfire killed some people in their cars as they tried to flee the racing flames. The state’s most destructive fire in at least a century has burned down more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes.

Roger Bloxberg and his wife Anne hug as they watch a wildfire on a hilltop near their home in West Hills, California. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo
Roger Bloxberg and his wife Anne hug as they watch a wildfire on a hilltop near their home in West Hills, California. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funding to help firefighters battling the wildfires across California.

In the south, flames leapt and raged from Thousand Oaks south through the northwestern San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and appeared to be heading towards the Pacific Ocean.

Thousand Oaks was already reeling from a shooting at a country music bar that killed a dozen people this week when it was besieged by fire. It raged on both sides of the city and shut down part of the main freeway into town.

“It’s devastating. It’s like ‘welcome to hell’,” resident Cynthia Ball said about the dual disasters outside a centre serving as a shelter for evacuees. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s like we’re all walking around kind of in a trance.”

A home burns in Paradise, California on November 8th, 2018: its 26,000 residents were told to flee. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty
A home burns in Paradise, California on November 8th, 2018: its 26,000 residents were told to flee. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty

Three-quarters of the city of 130,000 was under evacuation orders – and that probably included people affected by the shooting, mayor Andy Fox said.

The entire coastal enclave of Malibu also was ordered to flee, with Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West and Guillermo del Toro among the celebrities forced to abandon their homes.

The Woolsey blaze also destroyed the home of Dr Strange director Scott Derrickson and the historic Paramount Ranch where HBO’s Westworld and many other shows were filmed.

A firefighter inspects the smouldering ruins of a home destroyed in Agoura, California on November 9th, 2018. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA
A firefighter inspects the smouldering ruins of a home destroyed in Agoura, California on November 9th, 2018. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA

The flames spread so fast that firefighters could not be everywhere at once and residents took matters into their own hands.

People tried to save a mansion by hurling buckets of water from a swimming pool on to burning brush over a fence.

Firefighters pleaded with people to heed mandatory evacuation orders. Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said some firefighters were “literally pulling people out of burning homes”.

“Even though the wind has died down, stay on guard,” he urged. “We’re in the seventh year of a drought. Our weather conditions out there, and our fuel conditions are absolutely right for fire ... when we ask you to leave, please leave early.” – Associated Press