Sunday 22 September 2019

'Devil winds' fan the flames as death toll in California rises to 25

In focus

Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty
Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty

Julie Allen

The grim task of recovering and identifying the victims of California's apocalyptic wildfires began yesterday as officials raised the death toll to 25, with more than 100 people unaccounted for.

With severe, hot and dry 'devil winds' expected to continue throughout today, fire-fighters have been unable to contain the inferno in Butte County, in the north of the state, where 52,000 people have fled their homes.

Most of the fatalities and missing people come from the town of Paradise, which was reduced to ash at the weekend. So far, 23 are known to have perished, with that figure expected to rise in the coming days. Two people died in Malibu.

The so-called Camp fire has destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, most of them family homes, over an area of 420 sq km.

Officials made arrangements to bring in a mobile DNA laboratory so that people with missing relatives could provide samples to help identify recovered remains.

Anthropologists were working alongside coroners to help examine body parts sifted from scorched rubble.

Zoo keepers load crated birds into trucks to return to their enclosures after a brief evacuation due to the presence of a nearby wildfire at the Los Angeles Zoo, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Zoo keepers load crated birds into trucks to return to their enclosures after a brief evacuation due to the presence of a nearby wildfire at the Los Angeles Zoo, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Zoo keepers load crated birds into trucks to return to their enclosures after a brief evacuation due to the presence of a nearby wildfire at the Los Angeles Zoo, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
U.S. Marines instal concertina wire along the top of the primary border wall at the port of entry next to Tijuana in San Ysidro, San Diego, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fire helicopters fly over the hills the Los Angeles Zoo which was closed and briefly evacuated some animals due to the presence of a nearby wildfire, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
A home burns during a wildfire that claimed dozens of others in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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
A home burns during a wildfire that claimed dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
A home burns during a wildfire that claimed dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
A resident looks at approaching flames as 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
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
A home burns during a wildfire that claimed 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
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
A home burns during a wildfire that claimed 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

At the ruined Holly Hills Mobile Estate, yellow police tape marked spots tagged 'Doe C' and 'Doe D', suggesting that bodies were found there. Kory Honea, the Butte County sheriff, said in many cases the only remains they were able to find were bones or bone fragments.

"This weighs heavy on all of us," he said, "myself and especially those staff members who are out there, doing what is important work but certainly difficult work."

Paradise resident Jan MacGregor (81) returned home to discover nothing left but a large metal safe and some pipework.

"We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years," he said. "We've had them come right up to the city limits - oh yeah - but nothing like this."

Vet Jesse Jellison rescues an injured goose in Paradise. Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters
Vet Jesse Jellison rescues an injured goose in Paradise. Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters

About 800km south, Malibu, the celebrity enclave, remained subject to mandatory evacuation as a separate blaze, named the Woolsey fire, threatened to spread. About 330,000 hectares have been affected and 177 buildings destroyed.

Wildfires have intensified in recent years because of a five-year drought and warmer weather, which is attributed to climate change.

President Donald Trump has blamed the fires on human mismanagement of forests and angered Californians by threatening to stop federal aid.

"With proper forest management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get smart," he said yesterday.

A woman and her child prepare for evacuation in Malibu. Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters
A woman and her child prepare for evacuation in Malibu. Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters

Brian Rice, president of the California fire-fighters' union, excoriated Mr Trump.

He said the president's statement was "ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering, as well as the men and women on the front lines". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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