200,000 flee Cal­i­for­nia’s worst-ever fires

Blazes kill at least 25 and wipes out small town as Trump blames state

Toronto Star - - WORLD - CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR., JOEL ACHENBACH, LIND­SEY BEVER AND ELI ROSEN­BERG

MALIBOU LAKE, CALIF.— A grow­ing trio of wild­fires in­cin­er­ated large swaths of North­ern and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia over the past three days, killing at least 25 peo­ple, dis­plac­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands and turn­ing a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity called Par­adise into acres of ash and charred foun­da­tions. The mas­sive Camp Fire north of Sacra­mento had de­stroyed some 6,700 struc­tures, be­com­ing the most de­struc­tive in­ferno in a state with a long and calami­tous his­tory of fires.

Since Thurs­day, more than 200,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans have been dis­placed — greater than the pop­u­la­tion of the city of Or­lando, Florida. In ad­di­tion to the dead, dozens have been re­ported miss­ing. Au­thor­i­ties warned that the prop­erty losses would also be stag­ger­ing. A pair of fires near Los Angeles threat­ened Mal­ibu man­sions and de­stroyed Para­mount Ranch, the film­ing lo­ca­tion of the HBO se­ries West­world.

Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea says in­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered 14 ad­di­tional bod­ies Satur­day. And two more were found dead in a wild­fire in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties for the state to 25. The fires have be­come the third-dead­li­est in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

Be­fore of­fi­cials an­nounced the lat­est grim sta­tis­tics and ris­ing death toll on Satur­day, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fanned an on­go­ing dis­pute with Cal­i­for­nia lead­ers, blam­ing mis­man­age­ment of state re­sources for the de­struc­tion and death.

“There is no rea­son for these mas­sive, deadly and costly for­est fires in Cal­i­for­nia ex­cept that for­est man­age­ment is so poor,” Trump tweeted Satur­day morn­ing. “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!”

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials have coun­tered Trump’s claims in the past, say­ing that ever-in­tense fires are the re­sult of global warm­ing, which dries up veg­e­ta­tion and turns fire-prone ar­eas of the state into a tin­der­box.

Satur­day morn­ing was the first time Trump has spo­ken pub­licly about the blazes.

In North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Butte County, about 145 kilo­me­tres north of state cap­i­tal Sacra­mento, res­i­dents de­scribed flee­ing a cat­a­strophic fire that be­gan on Thurs­day. The in­ferno grew with in­cred­i­ble speed, claimed nine lives and turned a sunny day into an end-of-days scene of flames, smoke, sparks and wide de­struc­tion. Named af­ter nearby Camp Creek, the blaze is not yet done. It had burned at least 36,000 hectares, more than 360 square kilo­me­tres, and was only 20 per cent con­tained by Satur­day, caus­ing of­fi­cials to de­clare a state of emer­gency for a fire likely to worsen over the week­end.

Of­fi­cials warned “red flag” con­di­tions would per­sist through Mon­day, hot, dry and windy weather that makes the land ripe for a fire’s spread.

Sher­riff Honea told re­porters at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day evening that of­fi­cials had found nine peo­ple who had been killed by the fire: Four were found dead in their cars in Par­adise, down from the five of­fi­cials had spo­ken about ear­lier; three out­side of houses; and two oth­ers, one in­side a home, and an­other near a car.

The fire had in­jured an undis­closed num­ber of res­i­dents as well as three fire­fight­ers. And Honea’s deputies were still look­ing into 35 re­ports of miss­ing peo­ple.

“This event was the worstcase sce­nario,” Honea said. “It’s the event that we have feared for a long time.”

Trump has loudly and con­sis­tently blamed in­ten­si­fy­ing wild­fires on poor re­source man­age­ment by Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials. In Au­gust, with fires grow­ing to his­toric sizes in Cal­i­for­nia, Trump tweeted that the state is “fool­ishly” di­vert­ing “vast amounts of water from the North,” blam­ing bad en­vi­ron­men­tal laws for the summer’s deadly fires. Twice in Oc­to­ber, Trump made sim­i­lar threats be­cause of what he al­leged was poor for­est man­age­ment pol­icy, The Washington Post wrote.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials’ response has been that the real cul­prit be­hind in­ten­si­fy­ing wild­fires is cli­mate change.

As The Washington Post’s An­gela Fritz wrote in July, a hot­ter-than av­er­age summer and dry win­ter have “led to tin­derdry veg­e­ta­tion,” in ar­eas scorched by the Carr fire dur­ing Red­ding, Cal­i­for­nia’s hottest July on record. “The en­ergy re­lease com­po­nent, or how much fuel is avail­able for the fire, is at the high­est it has been around Red­ding since at least 1979,” Fritz wrote.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Ven­tura County, still reel­ing from a mass shoot­ing that left 12 peo­ple dead, more wild­fires had bro­ken out, forc­ing 100,000 peo­ple in Thou­sand Oaks, Mal­ibu and other ar­eas to flee their homes. The Woolsey Fire had burned 14,000 hectares, of­fi­cials said, while the nearby Hill Fire had burned through 2,400.

On Satur­day, Los Angeles County Sher­iff’s Chief John Bene­dict told The As­so­ci­ated Press that two peo­ple have been found dead in the fire zone of a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia blaze.

The deaths are the first from the pair of wild­fires burn­ing to the north and west of down­town Los Angeles.

But of all the ar­eas struck by fires in the state so far, Par­adise had fared the worst. Its main com­mer­cial street trans­formed into a smok­ing run­way of de- struc­tion. Of­fi­cials said that 6,453 homes and 260 busi­nesses had been de­stroyed, mak­ing the fire the most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia’s his­tory. The pre­vi­ous record holder, the Tubbs Fire in the state’s wine coun­try, was just one year ago.

Marc Kessler, 55, a sci­ence teacher at a pub­lic mid­dle school in Par­adise, said the sky turned black soon af­ter he ar­rived at work.

“It was rain­ing black pieces of soot, coming down like a black snow­storm and start­ing fires ev­ery­where,” he said in an in­ter­view. “Within min­utes, the town was en­gulfed.”

Teach­ers were told by emer­gency work­ers to forgo seat­belt laws as they piled 200 or so stu­dents into their per­sonal ve­hi­cles. Bus driv­ers drove through flames to help out, he said. One of his stu­dents pointed out what they thought was the moon in the dark­ened sky.

“I said, ‘That’s not the moon. That’s the sun,’ ” he re­called, his voice crack­ing. “There were times when you couldn’t see though the smoke.”

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN GETTY IMAGES

Power lines rest on torched cars in Par­adise. One sher­iff called the mas­sive fires “the event that we have feared for a long time.”

NOAH BERGER THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Eric Eng­land searches through a friend’s ve­hi­cle af­ter the wild­fire de­stroyed Par­adise, a town of 26,000 peo­ple.

JOHN LOCHER THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Krystin Har­vey com­forts her daugh­ter Araya Cipollini on Satur­day at the re­mains of their home burned in the Camp Fire.

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