Tuesday 11 December 2018

'Deadliest blaze in history' as 42 people die in California wildfire

Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Tim Billow, 62, tries to save his plantings in his backyard as the Woolsey Fire burns in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea. Winds are blamed for pushing the fire through scenic canyon communities and ridgetop homes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers discover bone fragments inside a burned vehicle in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers inspect remains near a burned out vehicle off a dirt road in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Water from a firetruck douses flames and smoke near homes in West Hills, California, on November 11, 2018, as firefighters continue their battle to control the Woolsey Fire. - Near Los Angeles, where the fire is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has so far been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers write on a body bag after loading a body into a hearse in Concow, California, on November 11, 2018 after the Camp Fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
The burnt out remains of a vehicle is seen at a home in the beachside community of Point Dume in Malibu, California on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

At least 42 people have died in a wildfire in Northern California, making it the deadliest blaze in state history.

Authorities reported 13 more fatalities as the search for bodies continued.

Victims were found in burned-out cars, in the smouldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could escape.

In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them.

Tim Billow, 62, tries to save his plantings in his backyard as the Woolsey Fire burns in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea. Winds are blamed for pushing the fire through scenic canyon communities and ridgetop homes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Tim Billow, 62, tries to save his plantings in his backyard as the Woolsey Fire burns in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea. Winds are blamed for pushing the fire through scenic canyon communities and ridgetop homes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers discover bone fragments inside a burned vehicle in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers inspect remains near a burned out vehicle off a dirt road in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Water from a firetruck douses flames and smoke near homes in West Hills, California, on November 11, 2018, as firefighters continue their battle to control the Woolsey Fire. - Near Los Angeles, where the fire is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has so far been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers write on a body bag after loading a body into a hearse in Concow, California, on November 11, 2018 after the Camp Fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
The burnt out remains of a vehicle is seen at a home in the beachside community of Point Dume in Malibu, California on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters douse burning embers off Kanan Dume Road, a canyon road which cuts across the mountains to Malibu, California on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
This photo shows the remains of a beachside luxury home along the Pacific Coast Highway community of Point Dume in Malibu, California, on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Burning embers remain amidst the destruction of a beachside luxury home along the Pacific Coast Highway community of Point Dume in Malibu, California, on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
MALIBU, CA - NOV 11: Firefighters battle a blaze at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOV 11: A fire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A burnt car and a gas station remain visible after the "Camp" fire tore through the region near Pulga, east of Paradise, California on November 11, 2018. - Search teams scoured the carnage of California's most destructive ever wildfire for victims on Sunday, as the state-wide death toll rose to 26 with high winds hampering the effort to rescue property and save lives. At least 23 people have lost their lives in and around the Paradise community of 27,000, according to an official count by authorities. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California, on November 10, 2018. - The death toll from the most destructive fire to hit California rose to 23 on November 10 as rescue workers recovered more bodies of people killed by the devastating blaze. Ten of the bodies were found in the town of Paradise while four were discovered in the Concow area, both in Butte County. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Yuba County Sheriff officers carry a body away from a burned residence in Paradise, California, on November 10, 2018. - Firefighters in California on November 10 battled raging blazes at both ends of the state that have left at least nine people dead and thousands of homes destroyed, but there was little hope of containing the flames anytime soon. So far, all nine fatalities were reported in the town of Paradise, in Butte County, where more than 6,700 buildings, most of them residences, have been consumed by the late-season inferno, which is now California's most destructive fire on record. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of people were unaccounted for by the sheriff's reckoning, four days after the fire swept over the town of Paradise and practically wiped it off the map.

As the search for victims dragged on, friends and relatives of the missing called hospitals, police, shelters and the coroner's office in the hope of learning what became of their loved ones.

A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Paradise was a popular retirement community, and about a quarter of the population was over 65.

Tad Teays awaited word on his 90-year-old dementia-stricken mother. Darlina Duarte was desperate for information about her half-brother, a diabetic who was largely housebound because he had lost his legs.

And Barbara Hall tried in vain to find out whether her aunt and the woman's husband, who are in their 80s and 90s, made it out alive from their retirement community.

"Did they make it in their car? Did they get away? Did their car go over the edge of a mountain somewhere? I just don't know," said Ms Hall, adding that the couple had only a landline and calls were not going through to it.

Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Megan James, of Newfoundland, Canada, searched via Twitter from the other side of the continent for information about her aunt and uncle, whose house in Paradise burned down and whose vehicles were still there. On Monday, she asked on Twitter for someone to take over the posts, saying she was "so emotionally and mentally exhausted".

The blaze was part of an outbreak of wildfires on both ends of the state.

Together, they were blamed for 44 deaths, including two in celebrity-studded Malibu in Southern California, where firefighters appeared to be gaining ground against a roughly 143-square-mile blaze that destroyed at least 370 structures, with hundreds more feared lost.

Some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by the blaze were allowed to return, and authorities reopened US 101, a major highway through the fire zone in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Malibu celebrities and mobile-home dwellers in nearby mountains were slowly learning whether their homes had been spared or reduced to ash.

In Northern California, fire crews still fighting the blaze that obliterated Paradise contended with wind gusts of up to 40 mph overnight. The fire had grown to 177 square miles and was 25% contained, authorities said. Winds were expected to weaken on Monday night.

The 29 dead in Northern California matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. A series of wildfires in Northern California's wine country last autumn killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes.

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