From north to south, Cal­i­for­nia does bat­tle with a trio of fu­ri­ous and fa­tal wild­fires

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Thomas Fuller, Jen­nifer Medina and Jose A. Del Real NEW YORK TIMES

THOU­SAND OAKS, Calif. – Even in a state hard­ened to the rav­ages of wild­fires, the in­fer­nos that raged at both ends of Cal­i­for­nia on Fri­day were over­pow­er­ing. Mal­ibu man­sions burned. Five peo­ple died in their cars in a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity called Par­adise. And in the neigh­bor­hood in Thou­sand Oaks where a gun­man had killed 12 peo­ple in a crowded bar ear­lier in the week, sur­vivors now fled the flames.

The fire-prone state was bat­tling three ma­jor fires, one in the north­ern Sierra and two west of Los An­ge­les. In the north­ern town of Par­adise, the ru­ins of houses and busi­nesses smol­dered through­out the day, while in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents fled their homes and jammed onto high­ways. Ex­otic lemurs and par­rots were packed up and car­ried away to safety as fires ringed the Los An­ge­les Zoo in Grif­fith Park.

“It’s phe­nom­e­nal how fast the fire spread,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion, said of the fire in Par­adise, where he had res­cued a lone, older woman rolling down a road in her wheel­chair Thurs­day. As fire­fight­ers strug­gled to con­tain the flames, and as a thick blan­ket of smoke turned day into night, McLean said he feared the death toll would rise higher. Aban­doned cars on a cen­tral street were ev­i­dence that many had fled the fe­ro­ciously fast fire on foot.

It was too early to know how many of them made it out of Par­adise alive.

In Thou­sand Oaks, there was grief com­pounded by grief. Just as res­i­dents were com­ing to terms with a shoot­ing at a coun­try mu­sic bar, the wind-driven fires swept thou­sands of res­i­dents from their homes. Mayor An­drew P. Fox said late Fri­day af­ter­noon that nearly 75 per­cent of the city had been evac­u­ated.

Dy­lan McNey, 22, a car­pen­ter, was a triple sur­vivor. McNey has lived through two mass shoot­ings just a year apart: first, at the county mu­sic fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas, then once again at the Border­line Bar & Grill in Thou­sand Oaks this week. McNey used to work as a se­cu­rity guard at the Border­line, and said he is there at least a cou­ple of times a week.

Al­though his friends had all sur­vived the Las Ve­gas shoot­ing, a woman he helped to es­cape even­tu­ally died of her wounds, he said. Six of his friends were killed at the Border­line shoot­ing.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, he gath­ered at his house with sev­eral friends so they could be to­gether in their grief. When they re­ceived an evac­u­a­tion or­der, his mother and sis­ter left. But McNey de­cided to stay put, along with his fa­ther, a for­mer fire­fighter, and watched the fire from their back­yard.

“We had a good view from where it was start­ing,” he said.

Bill Vano, a Thou­sand Oaks res­i­dent who was evac­u­ated as the fire ap­proached, said he felt whip­sawed.

“It’s a lot real fast – I don’t know how to process it,” Vano said. “I’m con­fused, walk­ing around in a fog right now.”

In Par­adise, emer­gency crews looked for the miss­ing, an en­deavor com­pli­cated by the fire’s con­tin­ued strength, said Me­gan McMann, a co­or­di­na­tor with the Butte County Sher­iff’s Of­fice. “There are a lot of areas where the fire is ac­tive that we can’t ac­cess,” McMann said.

The bod­ies of five peo­ple were found “in ve­hi­cles that were over­come” by the flames, Sher­iff Kory L. Honea of Butte County said, adding that they had been so badly burned, they could not im­me­di­ately be iden­ti­fied. A sixth body was found Fri­day, but of­fi­cials said the cir­cum­stances of that death were still un­clear.

Brian Robert­son, who was sleep­ing in a trailer near the town of Ma­galia, tes­ti­fied to the speed of the fire. He cred­ited his pit bull, BB, for sav­ing him.

“She woke me up and the whole world was on fire around us,” said Robert­son, who be­lieves his trailer was de­stroyed.

Wild­fires like th­ese have long been a threat in Cal­i­for­nia, but over the last sev­eral years they have had dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts never be­fore seen in the state. Fire­fight­ers con­stantly re­peat that the state has reached a “new nor­mal” of nearly year-round fires.

Cal­i­for­nia’s gover­nor-elect, Gavin New­som, de­clared a state of emer­gency Fri­day in Los An­ge­les and Ven­tura coun­ties. On Thurs­day, he de­clared an emer­gency in north­ern Butte County and asked Pres­i­dent Trump for fed­eral as­sis­tance.

Many fires in re­cent years have been caused by downed power lines. Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co., which has been blamed for bil­lions of dol­lars in past fire dam­age, ex­pe­ri­enced an out­age in Butte County about 15 min­utes be­fore the Camp Fire started Thurs­day and also re­ported a dam­aged trans­mis­sion tower in the area, ac­cord­ing to re­port filed to state reg­u­la­tors. Of­fi­cials say they were still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the causes of the cur­rent fires.

New York Times

Smoke from the Woolsey Fire looms above High­way 101 in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., on Fri­day morn­ing. Fire­fight­ers in op­po­site ends of Cal­i­for­nia fought back fast-mov­ing blazes as wild­fires raged out of con­trol near ma­jor ci­ties and forced tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents to flee their homes.

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