Death toll in California fires rises to 25
PARADISE, Calif. — The air thick with smoke from a ferocious wildfire that continued burning Saturday, residents who stayed behind to try to save their property or who managed to get back to their neighborhoods in this Northern California town found cars incinerated and homes reduced to rubble.
People surveyed the damage and struggled to cope with what they had lost. Entire neighborhoods were leveled and the business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the same fury that largely wiped out this foothill town.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Saturday that 14 additional bodies were found, bringing the death toll for the Northern California fire to 23. The victims have not been identified.
A second wildfire in Southern California killed at least two people, bringing the total number of fire fatalities for the state over the past few days to 25.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funding for fires on both ends of the state. But then he later threatened to withhold payments to California, claiming its forest management is “so poor.”
Trump tweeted Saturday 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 northern fire became California’s third- deadliest ever, with the death toll surpassing that from a blaze Deputies recover the remains of more victims Saturday from the Northern California wildfire. Twentyfive people have been confirmed dead in two fires at either end of the state, and another 100 people are missing.
last year that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa.
An additional search team on top of the four already on the ground was being brought in to look for victims, Honea said. An anthropology team from California State University, Chico was helping with that effort, he said.
The sheriff’s office said there still are at least 100 people missing.
In some cases, investigators have been able to recover only bones and bone fragments, he said.
He encouraged family members of the missing to submit DNA samples that could be compared with remains.
More firefighters headed to the area Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour expected, raising the risk of conditions similar to those when the fire started Thursday, said Alex Hoon with the National Weather Service.
The blaze grew to 164
square miles, but crews made gains and it was partially contained, officials said. It has cost $ 8.1 million to fight so far, said Steve Kaufmann, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Jan MacGregor, 81, got back to his small twobedroom home in Paradise with the help of his firefighter grandson. He found his home leveled — a large metal safe and some pipe work from his septic system the only recognizable traces. The safe was punctured with bullet holes from guns inside that went off in the scorching heat.
He has lived in Paradise for nearly 80 years, moving there in 1939 when he said the town had just 3,000 people and was nicknamed Poverty Ridge. The fire was not a complete surprise, he said.
“We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years,” he said.
“We’ve had ‘em come right up to the city limits — oh yeah — but nothing like this.”
Abandoned, charred vehicles cluttered the main thoroughfare, evidence of the panicked evacuation as the wildfire tore through Thursday. The dead were found mostly inside their cars or outside vehicles and homes.
Five of the dead panicked when they couldn’t escape by car because their route was cut off by a wall of fire, said Gabriel Fallon, who rode out the blaze with his parents to care for the horses, cows and livestock on their 10- acre farm in Paradise.
The group turned the other way and dashed down the paved street until it turned into dirt and passed the Fallons’ farm, he said. One of the drivers stopped and asked Fallon if the direction they were going would lead them to safety. Fallon said he shook his head as the fire roared closer.
The motorists parked at the end of the road. On Saturday, the charred shells of the five cars remained where they had been parked.
Fallon went back to his property, where he, and his parents and their animals weathered the fire with a garden hose. The fire consumed their home, but left the barn intact.
“I was scared as hell,” said Fallon, 42. “I didn’t know if I was going to die.”
In Southern California, two destructive wildfires tore through Malibu mansions and working-class suburban homes, killing at least two people.
State officials put the total number of people forced from their homes in that area at more than 200,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu that is home to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, Guillermo del Toro and Martin Sheen were among those forced out of their homes amid a citywide evacuation order.
But the flames also burned inland through hills and canyons dotted with modest homes, reached into the corner of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and stretched into suburbs like Thousand Oaks, a city of 130,000 that just a few days ago was where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting at a country-andwestern bar.
California emerged from a five- year drought last year but has had a very dry 2018. Much of the northern twothirds of the state, including where the northern fire is burning, is abnormally dry, according to a U.S. government analysis.