Par­adise lost, Mal­ibu emp­tied

Cal­i­for­nia’s most de­struc­tive wild­fire de­stroys small town, one city evac­u­ated

The Star Malaysia - - World -

PAR­ADISE (Cal­i­for­nia): Not a sin­gle res­i­dent of Par­adise can be seen any­where in town af­ter most of them fled the burn­ing North­ern Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­nity that may be lost for­ever. Aban­doned, charred ve­hi­cles clut­tered the main thor­ough­fare, ev­i­dence of the pan­icked evac­u­a­tion a day ear­lier.

Most of its build­ings are in ruin. En­tire neigh­bour­hoods are lev­elled. The busi­ness district is de­stroyed. In a sin­gle day, this Sierra Ne­vada foothill town of 27,000 founded in the 1800s was largely in­cin­er­ated by flames that moved so fast there was noth­ing fire­fight­ers could do.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the blaze that started out­side the hilly town of Par­adise had grown on Fri­day to nearly 360sq km and de­stroyed more than 6,700 struc­tures, al­most all of them homes, mak­ing it Cal­i­for­nia’s most de­struc­tive wild­fire since record-keeping be­gan.

Nine peo­ple have been found dead, some in­side their cars and oth­ers out­side ve­hi­cles or homes af­ter a des­per­ate evac­u­a­tion that Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea called “the worst-case sce­nario”.

Their iden­ti­ties were not yet known.

“It is what we feared for a long time,” Honea said, not­ing there was no time to knock on res­i­dents’ doors one-by-one.

With fires also burn­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, state of­fi­cials put the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple forced from their homes at more than 200,000.

Evac­u­a­tion or­ders in­cluded the en­tire city of Mal­ibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s big­gest stars.

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump is­sued an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion pro­vid­ing fed­eral funds for Butte, Ven­tura and Los An­ge­les coun­ties.

He later threat­ened to with­hold fed­eral pay­ments to Cal­i­for­nia, claim­ing its for­est man­age­ment is “so poor”.

Trump said via Twit­ter yes­ter­day that “there is no rea­son for th­ese mas­sive, deadly and costly fires in Cal­i­for­nia”.

Trump said “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!”

The fire in Par­adise, about 290km north­east of San Fran­cisco, was still burn­ing out of con­trol.

A thick, yel­low haze hung in the air, giv­ing the ap­pear­ance of twi­light in the mid­dle of the day. Some of the “ma­jes­tic oaks” the town boasts of on its web­site still have fires burn­ing in their trunks. Thick wooden posts hold­ing up guardrails con­tin­ued to burn.

Thurs­day morn­ing’s evac­u­a­tion or­der set off a des­per­ate ex­o­dus in which many fran­tic mo­torists got stuck in grid­locked traf­fic. Many aban­doned their ve­hi­cles to flee on foot as the flames bore down on all sides.

“The fire was so close I could feel it in my car through rolled up win­dows,” said Rita Miller, who fled with her dis­abled mother.

Par­adise, sit­u­ated on a ridge be­tween two val­leys, was a pop­u­lar re­tire­ment com­mu­nity, rais­ing con­cerns of el­derly and im­mo­bile res­i­dents who have been re­ported miss­ing. On the out­skirts of town, Pa­trick Knuth­son, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion res­i­dent, said only two of the 22 homes that once stood on his street are still there – his and a neigh­bour’s.

“The fire burned from one house, to the next house, to the next house un­til they were pretty much all gone,” Knuth­son said.

Cal­i­for­nia burn­ing: Rub­ble lit­ter­ing a lot on Sky­way af­ter a wild­fire burned through Par­adise as the Woolsey Fire (above) ap­proaches homes in Mal­ibu. — AP/AFP

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