At least 31 people have died in the wildfires scorching California, and with more than 200 people still missing the death toll is likely to rise in the coming days.
Six more people were confirmed dead Sunday in the Camp Fire in the north of the state, bringing the total fatalities for that blaze to 29 — matching the highest death toll for a single fire in the state’s history.
In southern California, at least two people died in the Woolsey Fire, but hundreds remain unaccounted for as emergency services battle the blaze.
In Paradise, a town at the center of the Camp Fire, ten search teams sifted through debris Monday looking for survivors. But fire officials warned that high winds and low humidity mean that red flag conditions are set to persist throughout this week.
“This is truly a tragedy that all Californians can understand and respond to,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a press briefing Sunday. “It’s a time to pull together and work through these tragedies.”
Brown also urged U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster and release more funds.
Trump responded by repeating a claim that poor “forest management” was to blame for the wildfires, adding that he was considering withhold aid until the situation was remedied.
Trump’s claims were quickly debunked. “The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management. Come to So. Cal and learn the facts and help the victims,” the Pasadena Fire Association said.
- 31 people have died so far
- 228 people remain unaccounted for
- 250,000 people are displaced
- 8,000 fire crews are battling the wildfires
- 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) have been scorched
- 210 days since the area received half an inch of rain
- 6,435 homes have been destroyed
- 260 businesses have been destroyed
"Everyone I know lost their home."
In Paradise, a town of 26,000 people, the Camp Fire appeared to come from nowhere Thursday morning. Within hours almost the entire town had been incinerated.
“Most of the residential [area] is gone. I would say 90 percent,” Jody Jones, the mayor of Paradise, told the BBC. “I had an opportunity to go up there and take a look for myself. Just about everyone I know lost their home.”
Authorities said that identifying some of the victims would be difficult as only bone fragments have been found. A DNA lab and teams of anthropologists have been called in to help.
In some neighborhoods “it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.
"Heartbreaking time across California."
The Woolsey Fire started near Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles north-west of central Los Angeles. Only around 10 percent of the blaze has been contained. The Thousand Oaks community is still in mourning after 12 people were shot dead in mass-shooting last week.
The fire, which has consumed 83,000 acres and destroyed at least 177 buildings, reached beachside properties in areas such as Malibu over the weekend, with celebrities reporting that their homes had been destroyed.
Hollywood actor Gerard Butler shared a picture of a charred house on Twitter, writing: “Returned to my house in Malibu after evacuating. Heartbreaking time across California.”
Neil Young, Robin Thicke, and Miley Cyrus also had their homes ravaged by the Woolsey Fire.
Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, where the HBO series Westworld is filmed, was also destroyed.
"This is the new abnormal."
Firefighters hit out over the weekend at the president’s tweets blaming the state for the disaster.
“His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected,” Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said.
Brian K. Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters, called Trump’s words “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” and said his “shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”
Brown also spoke out at Trump’s comments, blaming climate change for the disaster, noting that the problem is not going to go away any time soon.
“This is not the new normal,” Brown said Sunday, referring to a phrase that state leaders have used to describe the past two deadly, prolonged California fire seasons. “This is the new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Cover image: Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Eric Thayer)