CALIF. WILDFIRES TURN DEADLY
Thousands flee raging wildfires sweeping through Southern California. Five found dead in charred vehicles.
As wildfires swept over a large swath of California on Friday, authorities said at least five people had been killed in a blaze that decimated a retirement community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The state is battling three major fires, one in the northern Sierra and two west of Los Angeles. In the northern town of Paradise, the ruins of homes and businesses smoldered Friday, while in Southern California tens of thousands of residents west of Los Angeles fled their homes and jammed onto highways.
The bodies of five people were found in Paradise “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.
Firefighters in Chico, west of Paradise, were on the outskirts of the city, trying to push the fire away from homes and subdivisions. The blaze, called the Camp Fire, has burned more than 70,000 acres and is only 5 percent controlled, authorities said.
In Southern California, authorities ordered the complete evacuation of Malibu, the affluent community that is home to many Hollywood celebrities, as the fire raced through the hills and canyons above the Pacific Ocean. No part of the fire was under control, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
A separate fire in Griffith Park, near Burbank and Glendale, and not far from downtown Los Angeles, forced the temporarily evacuation of some animals from the Los Angeles Zoo on the edge of the park.
Wildfires like the latest ones have long been a threat in California, but their impact has never been greater as more areas are developed. Over the summer, a significant section of Northern California was burned by the largest fire on record, the Mendocino Complex Fire. And last year the state’s most destructive fire on record, the Tubbs Fire, tore through Sonoma and Napa counties, killing 22 people and destroying thousands of homes.
More than 1.4 million acres have burned so far this year in the state, said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, roughly equal to the totals from the very destructive year of 2017.
And while the strong winds known as Santa Ana contributed to the bigger fires, the link with climate change is inextricable, said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
“It’s once again in California the perfect recipe for fire,” Williams said. “You get a big Santa Ana wind event in the fall before the first winter rain comes. You’ve got a lot of people who are always creating potential fires by lighting fires either on purpose or on accident.
“And then behind the scenes of all of this, you’ve got temperatures that are about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than they would’ve been without global warming.”
California’s governorelect, 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 Donald Trump for federal assistance.
On Friday morning near Paradise, black smoke eclipsed the sun, leaving the area in near-nighttime conditions. The air was thick with the smell of burning timber and scrub vegetation. Butte County officials reported that evacuation centers were filling up.
While the cause of the fire wasn’t known, Pacific Gas & Electric Company told state regulators it experienced an outage on an electrical transmission line near Paradise about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out, the Associated Press reported. The company said it later noticed damage to a transmission tower near the town, the AP said.
McLean, the deputy forestry chief, said Paradise, a forested retirement community of 27,000 people, was decimated Thursday.
McLean, who rescued a lone, older woman rolling down a road in her wheelchair, described a frantic effort to evacuate Paradise, especially its older residents.
“We started loading up buses as best we could,” he said. “It’s phenomenal how fast the fire spread.”
In Southern California, thick columns of smoke rose into the skies as the Woolsey Fire burned 10,000 acres west of Los Angeles. Residents in more than 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties have been told to evacuate.
A wildfire burns a home near Malibu Lake in Malibu, Calif., on Friday. The entire population of Malibu was ordered to evacuate.
Fire smolders in a destroyed home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Friday morning.