Death toll in Cal­i­for­nia fires rises to 25

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Gil­lian Flaccus, Don Thomp­son and Paul Elias As­so­ci­ated Press re­porters Daisy Nguyen, Olga R. Ro­driguez and Sud­hin Thanawala con­trib­uted to this story.

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.

[NOAH BERGER / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

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