9 dead as crews bat­tle Cal­i­for­nia blazes

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PAR­ADISE, Cal­i­for­nia (Reuters) – Two mon­ster wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing the most de­struc­tive in state his­tory, burned out of con­trol on Satur­day, hav­ing al­ready killed at least nine peo­ple, de­stroyed scores of build­ings and forced hun­dreds of thou­sands to flee their homes.

Nine peo­ple were found dead in and around the North­ern Cal­i­for­nia town of Par­adise, where more than 6,700 homes and busi­nesses were burned down by the 36,400 hectares Camp Fire, the state’s most de­struc­tive on record, au­thor­i­ties said.

“This event was the worst-case sce­nario. It was the event we have feared for a long time,” Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea said at a Fri­day evening press con­fer­ence. “Re­gret­tably, not ev­ery­body made it out.”

In Par­adise, which has about 26,000 res­i­dents, the fire de­stroyed most homes and half the busi­nesses, the town’s Mayor Jody Jones said on CNN, de­scrib­ing a long pe­riod of re­cov­ery ahead.

“It’s go­ing to be a process, a lot of hard work, a lot of com­ing to­gether, but we want to see Par­adise be par­adise again,” Jones said.

About 800 km. to the south in Los An­ge­les County, the 14,100-hectare Woolsey Fire was threat­en­ing thou­sands of homes and more than 200,000 peo­ple were un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders early on Satur­day.

All the res­i­dents of Mal­ibu, a posh ocean­side en­clave that is home to about 13,000 peo­ple 50 km. west of down­town Los An­ge­les, were told to get out on Fri­day.

The bod­ies of two peo­ple were dis­cov­ered in Mal­ibu but it was too early to de­ter­mine if they died from fire or an­other cause, the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment said.

The fire has de­stroyed a “sig­nif­i­cant num­ber” of homes, Los An­ge­les County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said at a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day, but of­fi­cials were still de­ter­min­ing how many.

Fire­fight­ers have been un­able to build any con­tain­ment lines around the Woolsey Fire, but of­fi­cials said they hoped to take ad­van­tage of a lull in winds on Satur­day to make progress.

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump, weigh­ing in on the emer­gency dur­ing a trip to France, said early on Satur­day that “gross mis­man­age­ment of forests” was to blame.

“There is no rea­son for th­ese mas­sive, deadly and costly for­est fires in Cal­i­for­nia ex­cept that for­est man­age­ment is so poor,” he wrote in a Twit­ter post.

“Bil­lions of dol­lars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all be­cause of gross mis­man­age­ment of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed pay­ments!” he added.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Act­ing Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som, a Demo­crat who was elected on Tues­day to re­place Jerry Brown, could not im­me­di­ately be reached for comment.

Trump 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. Of­fi­cials in the state have coun­tered that cli­mate change is the culprit.

Last month, af­ter Trump rekin­dled his crit­i­cism of Cal­i­for­nia’s wild­fire preven­tion steps, a spokesman for Brown said Trump’s com­ments lacked cred­i­bil­ity.

Sev­eral of the vic­tims of the Camp Fire, which broke out on Thurs­day at the edge of the Plumas Na­tional For­est north­east of Sacra­mento, were found in or near burned out cars, po­lice 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.

Some 35 peo­ple had been re­ported miss­ing and three fire­fight­ers had been in­jured. The blaze was only 5% con­tained as of night­fall on Fri­day.

The Woolsey Fire also broke out on Thurs­day in Ven­tura County near Los An­ge­les and quickly jumped the 101 Free­way, a ma­jor north-south artery, in sev­eral places. On Fri­day, it crossed the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains to­ward Mal­ibu, where flames driven by wind gusts of up to 80 kph raced down hill­sides and through canyons to­ward multi-mil­lion dol­lar homes.

Early on Satur­day, flames were near­ing Mal­ibu’s Pep­per­dine Univer­sity, a pri­vate res­i­den­tial col­lege with 7,700 stu­dents, where many re­mained shel­tered on the main cam­pus.

School of­fi­cials told the stu­dents that they have been as­sured by fire of­fi­cials that the univer­sity’s build­ings were built to with­stand fire.

In a video posted on Twit­ter that showed some stu­dents wear­ing pa­per masks, Con­nie Hor­ton, vice pres­i­dent for stu­dent af­fairs, told them to ex­pect “more smoke and maybe even ash and prob­a­bly some fright­en­ing vi­su­als, things like a tree on fire.”

Among those forced to flee the Mal­ibu area were celebri­ties in­clud­ing Lady Gaga and Kim Kar­dashian, who said on Twit­ter that flames had dam­aged the home she shares in nearby Cal­abasas with Kanye West.

In Ven­tura County, most of the town of Thou­sand Oaks was or­dered evac­u­ated, adding to the an­guish days af­ter a gun­man killed 12 peo­ple in a shooting ram­page at a bar.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

A RES­I­DENT POURS a bucket of wa­ter to put out flames caused by a fire in Mal­ibu on Fri­day.

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