‘Devil winds’ kick up as California wildfires leave 25 dead

‘It’s nothing but bad news’: Several bodies discovered in burned out cars, say police

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.

 

Severe hot and dry “devil winds” kicked up on Sunday in fire ravaged Southern California and more winds were expected in the north, fanning the flames of wild fires that have killed at least 25 people, officials said.

“This is getting bad,” said meteorologist Marc Chenard, with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“We’ll get sustained winds of up to 40 mph (64 km/h) and gusts between 60 mph (95 km/h) and 70 mph (112 km/h),” he said early Sunday of the Santa Ana “devil wind” hitting the Los Angeles area where the Woolsey Fire has been burning since Thursday in the tinder-dry canyon of Ventura County and claimed at least two lives.

The air-masses blowing across the western US deserts including Death Valley toward the coast are expected to bring the sustained high winds at least through Tuesday, he said.

“It’s nothing but bad news,” said Chenard.

Additional 40 mph (64 km/h) winds will blow across the Sierra Nevada foothills in Northern California near Sacramento where the so-called Camp Fire has claimed at least 23 lives.

The Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in Paradise, more structures than any other California wildfire on record, and the death toll, which could rise, also makes it one of the deadliest.

Captain Adrian Murrieta with the LAcounty fire department looks for hot spots on a wildfire-ravaged home. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Captain Adrian Murrieta with the LAcounty fire department looks for hot spots on a wildfire-ravaged home. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Only the Griffith Park Fire in 1933 and Tunnel Fire in 1991 have claimed more lives.

Several of the bodies discovered earlier this week were found in or near burned out cars, police have said. The flames descended on Paradise so fast that many people were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives down the sole road through the mountain town.

More than 110 people were reported missing in the fire-scorched area, said a spokeswoman for the Butte County Sheriff’s office, who declined further comment.

As of Saturday night, the Camp Fire had blackened more than 40,500 hectares (100,000 acres) at the edge of the Plumas National Forest. Crews had cut containment lines around about 20 per cent of the blaze.

About 500 miles (800 km) to the south, the Woolsey Fire burning in the foothills above Malibu doubled in size from Friday night into Sunday threatening thousands of homes after triggering mandatory evacuation orders for a quarter million people in the upscale beach city as well as other communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The fire has destroyed at least 177 homes and other structures with a full count still under way, and has charred more than 33,500 hectares (83,000) acres as of late Saturday, officials said.

“Our firefighters have been facing some extreme, tough fire conditions that they said they’ve never seen in their lives,” said Los Angeles County fire chief Daryl Osby.

US president Donald Trump weighed in on the emergency during a trip to France and said in a Twitter post early Sunday: “With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”

Mr Trump, a Republican, has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.

State officials have blamed climate change and say many of the burn areas have been in federally-managed lands.–Reuters