By MARTHA MENDOZA, GILLIAN FLACCUS
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
PARADISE, CALIF. -- White-clad forensic teams with cadaver dogs fanned out across a ghostly landscape strewn with ash and charred debris searching on Tuesday for more human remains left from a blaze that killed at least 48 people in California's deadliest wildfire disaster.
The intensified effort to locate victims came on the sixth day of a blaze that incinerated over 7,000 homes and other buildings, including most of the town of Paradise in the Sierra foothills of rural Butte County about 280 kilometres north of San Francisco.
County Sheriff Kory Honea said 228 people were listed as missing, and his office also was working to determine the fate of nearly 1,300 individuals whose loved ones had requested "well-being checks" on their behalf.
By Tuesday, the killer blaze dubbed the Camp Fire had blackened 125,000 acres of droughtparched scrub, up 8,000 acres from the night before, but crews had carved containment lines around nearly a third of the fire's expanding perimeter.
More than 50,000 area residents remained under evacuation orders and 15,500 structures were still listed as threatened by the blaze. However, diminished winds and higher humidity levels allowed crews to make headway against the flames, fire officials said.
"Things look much better than yesterday, due to weather conditions," said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The news was likewise more upbeat on the southern end of California's wildfire front, where a blaze called the Woolsey Fire has killed two people, destroyed over 400 structures and displaced some 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.
That blaze has scorched 96,000 acres of chaparral-covered rolling hills and canyons spanning Ventura and Los Angeles counties, an area roughly the size of Denver.
Beyond the loss of homes, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the fire had destroyed "deep infrastructure such as power lines, water lines, sewers, roads, lights and other things that make a city, a city, particularly a safe one."
But containment of the fire grew to 35 per cent on Tuesday as four communities previously under evacuation orders were reopened to residents, a sign firefighters were gaining the upper hand, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
The causes of both the Camp and Woolsey fires were listed as under investigation. But two utility companies, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, reported to regulators in recent days that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas where the blazes were reported around the time that they started.
The battle against the Camp Fire on Tuesday was being waged most intently in steep, thickly
wooded canyons filled with desiccated brush along the southern flank of the blaze.
"The fuel is so dry that if we get any wind, the fire is going to move," fire Captain Bill Murphy, a spokesman for the incident command, told Reuters.
While prospects for suppressing the fire grew more hopeful, authorities stepped up the grim task of sifting through rubble of homes obliterated in flames that roared through Paradise on Thursday night, sending residents fleeing for their lives.
Bodies of some victims were found in and around the burnedout wreckage of vehicles engulfed in the firestorm as evacuation traffic halted in deadly knots of gridlock hours after the fire erupted.
Mr. Honea announced on Monday the remains of at least 42 people had been recovered, making the Camp Fire the deadliest single wildfire in California history, surpassing the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles that killed 29 people in 1933.
It remained unclear how many of the 200-plus individuals listed as missing had perished or merely fell out of touch in following chaotic evacuations.
Teams of workers wielding chainsaws cleared downed power lines and other obstacles from the streets, while forensics investigators picked through barren, firescorched lots in a town once home to 27,000 people.
On a residential street in Paradise lined with burned-down houses, a 10-member forensics search team wearing white protective suits and red helmets used a dog to scour the debris.
"Look for skulls, the big bones," one forensics worker said to others as they used metal poles and their hands to sift through ruins.
Nearby at a community swimming pool, recovery workers stirred green, darkened waters with long poles to probe for bodies.
Mr. Honea said 150 additional search personnel were due to arrive in the area, reinforcing 13 coroner-led recovery teams already there.
The sheriff has requested portable morgue teams from the U.S.
military, as well as a "disaster mortuary" crew, additional cadaver dogs and forensic anthropology units.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday night declared a major disaster from the California wildfires, making federal emergency funds more readily available in the stricken counties.
"We mourn the lives of those lost and we pray for the victims," Mr. Trump said from the White House on Tuesday while thanking first responders.
California has endured two of its worst wildfire seasons in history the past two years, which experts attribute in large part to prolonged drought across the western United States.
With files from Associated Press THERE ARE SEVERAL WILDFIRES BURNING ACROSS CALIFORNIA, WITH TWO SPECIFIC DISASTERS CAUSING DEATHS AND SEVERE DAMAGE.
CAMP FIRE Location: Butte County, Northern California Death toll: At least 48
125,000 acres burned 35 per cent contained
15,500 structures threatened 6,522 residences, 260 commercial structures burned 228 people still unaccounted for 13 coroner-led recover teams
52,000 people remain under evacuation orders 8,700 firefighters from 17 states are battling the fires Full containment not expected until end of November
WOOLSEY FIRE Location: Near Ventura and L.A. counties Death toll: At least two
96,314 acres burned 35 per cent contained
57,000 structures threatened 435 homes and structures burned
200,000 people displaced from fires With files from the State of California's department of forestry and fire protection and Reuters
Firefighters battle flames at a burning apartment complex in Paradise, north of Sacramento, on Nov. 9. The battle against the Camp Fire on Tuesday was being waged most intently in steep, thickly wooded canyons filled with desiccated brush along the southern flank of the blaze. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
The Camp Fire, which burned through Paradise, Calif., has become the deadliest single wildfire in state history, surpassing the Griffith Park Fire in L.A. that killed 29 in 1933. JENNA SCHOENEFELD/NEW YORK TIMES
Joseph Grado and his wife Susan Grado embrace at a shelter for wildfire victims on Nov. 12, in Chico, Calif. The couple lost their Paradise home in the Camp Fire. HECTOR AMEZCUA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A couple embrace on Nov. 12 while they search through the remains of their Paradise, Calif., home that was destroyed by the Camp Fire. NOAH BERGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thursday, November 15, 2018