California wildfire toll matches deadliest ever with 29 victims

November 12, 2018
Gerald Butler
Hollywood actor Gerald Butler loses Malibu house in wildfires. GeraldButler/Twitter

PARADISE, United States — The number of dead in a wildfire raging in California rose to 29 on Sunday, matching the deadliest in the state’s history as recovery teams found six more bodies in the grim search through the wreckage.

The “Camp Fire” — in the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains — is the largest and most destructive of several infernos that have sent 250,000 people fleeing their homes across the tinder-dry state, razing 6,400 homes in the town of Paradise and effectively wiping it off the map.

“Today, an additional six human remains were recovered, which brings our current total to 29,” Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference at the end of the fourth day in the struggle to contain the blaze, adding that all were found in Paradise.

In fire zones in north and south California — where a total of at least 31 people have died — acrid smoke blanketed the sky for miles, the sun barely visible. On the ground, cars caught in the flames were reduced to mangled metal carcasses, while power lines were gnawed by the flames.

An AFP journalist saw recovery team workers discover, bag and drive away two bodies in the Paradise area on Sunday, and the death toll looked set to rise further with scores more people still unaccounted for.

The Camp Fire has the grisly distinction of matching the 1933 Griffith Park disaster in Los Angeles — until now the single deadliest wildfire on record, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

At the southern end of the state, where the “Woolsey Fire” is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway.

Los Angeles County Fire chief Daryl Osby told reporters of his gratitude to firefighters “who’ve done all they could do save tens of thousands of people’s lives and thousands of people’s homes.”

Rescuers also spent hours on Saturday collecting bodies around Paradise and placing them in a black hearse. Body parts were transported by bucket, while intact remains were carried in body bags.

At the Holly Hills Mobile Estate the mobile homes had been reduced to smoldering piles of debris. Yellow police tape delineated spots that were tagged “Doe C” and “Doe D,” a grim marker of the bodies that had recently been removed.

Locals fled the danger, but police told AFP some farmers returned to check on their cattle.

Fanned by strong winds, the “Camp Fire” has scorched 111,000 acres (45,000 hectares) and is 25 percent contained, Cal Fire said. So far, three of the more than 4,000 firefighters deployed have been injured.

They estimate they will need three weeks to fully contain the blaze.

Evacuation orders have been issued to more than a quarter of a million people across California, with authorities urging residents not to ignore warnings to flee.      AFP

With, Josh Edelson