Death toll 25 and may go higher in Cal­i­for­nia

DNA test­ing only way to ID some of the dead; wild­fires in north and south con­tinue

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - GIL­LIAN FLACCUS, DON THOMP­SON AND PAUL ELIAS

PAR­ADISE, CALIF. — Au­thor­i­ties called in a mo­bile DNA lab and an­thro­pol­o­gists to help iden­tify the dead as the search goes on for vic­tims of the most de­struc­tive wild­fire in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

The over­all death toll from the out­break of fires at both ends of the state stood at 25 Sun­day and ap­peared likely to rise.

All told, more than 8,000 fire­fight­ers bat­tled three large wild­fires burn­ing across nearly 1,000 square kilo­me­tres in north­ern and south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with out-of-state crews con­tin­u­ing to ar­rive and gusty, blow­torch winds mak­ing their re­turn.

The worst of the blazes was in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where flames re­duced the town of Par­adise, pop­u­la­tion 27,000, to a smok­ing ruin days ago and con­tin­ued to rage in sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. The num­ber of peo­ple killed in that fire alone, at least 23, made it the third-dead­li­est on record in the state.

Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea said the county was bring­ing in more res­cue work­ers and con­sulted an­thro­pol­o­gists from Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity at Chico be­cause in some cases “the only re­mains we are able to find are bones or bone frag­ments.”

“This weighs heavy on all of us,” Honea said.

Au­thor­i­ties were also bring­ing in a DNA lab and en­cour­aged peo­ple with miss­ing rel­a­tives to sub­mit sam­ples to aid in iden­ti­fy­ing the dead af­ter the blaze de­stroyed more than 6,700 build­ings, nearly all of them homes.

The sher­iff’s depart­ment com­piled a list of 110 peo­ple un­ac­counted for, but of­fi­cials held out hope that many were safe but had no cell­phones or some other way to con­tact loved ones.

Fire­fight­ers gained mod­est ground overnight against the blaze, which grew slightly to 440 square kilo­me­tres from the day be­fore but was 25 per cent con­tained, up from 20 per cent, ac­cord­ing to state fire agency, Cal Fire.

But Cal Fire spokesper­son Bill Mur­phy warned that gusty winds pre­dicted into Mon­day morn­ing could spark “ex­plo­sive fire be­hav­iour.”

Two peo­ple were also found dead in a wild­fire in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia , where flames tore through Mal­ibu man­sions and work­ing-class Los An­ge­les suburbs alike. The se­verely burned bod­ies were dis­cov­ered in a long res­i­den­tial drive­way in celebri­tys­tud­ded Mal­ibu, where those forced out of homes in­cluded Lady Gaga, Kim Kar­dashian West, Guillermo del Toro and Martin Sheen.

Flames also be­sieged Thou­sand Oaks, the south­ern Cal­i­for­nia city in mourn­ing over the mas­sacre of 12 peo­ple in a shoot­ing ram­page at a coun­try mu­sic bar Wed­nes­day night.

Fire of­fi­cials said Sun­day morn­ing that the larger of the re­gion’s two fires, the one burn­ing in and around Mal­ibu, grew to 340 square kilo­me­tres and was 10 per cent con­tained. But the strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow from the in­te­rior to­ward the coast re­turned af­ter a one-day lull, fan­ning the flames.

The count of lost struc­tures in both south­ern Cal­i­for­nia fires climbed to nearly 180, au­thor­i­ties said.

All told, an es­ti­mated 300,000 peo­ple statewide were un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders, most of them in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Gov. Jerry Brown said he is re­quest­ing a ma­jor-dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that would make vic­tims el­i­gi­ble for cri­sis coun­selling, hous­ing and un­em­ploy­ment help, and le­gal aid.

Drought and warmer weather at­trib­uted to cli­mate change, and the build­ing of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more de­struc­tive wild­fire sea­sons in Cal­i­for­nia. While Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the north­ern two-thirds of the state is ab­nor­mally dry.

In Par­adise, a town founded in the 1800s, res­i­dents who stayed be­hind to try to save their prop­er­ties or who man­aged to re­turn de­spite an evac­u­a­tion or­der found in­cin­er­ated cars and homes.

Peo­ple sidestepped burned cars or Jet-Skis as they sur­veyed neigh­bour­hoods. Some cried when they saw noth­ing was left.


A flag flies over a burned home Sun­day in Par­adise, Calif. Fires con­tinue to burn across the state but some progress was made in con­tain­ing them.

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