At least 29 people have died in the Camp fire in northern California, making it the joint-deadliest blaze in the state’s history.
The death toll rose after five bodies were found inside houses in the burned-out town of Paradise, while another was discovered in a nearby car.
But 228 people are still unaccounted for after the town was engulfed by the flames, meaning that death toll could rise considerably.
Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea said the devastation is so complete in some neighborhoods that ‘it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there’.
‘In some cases, the only remains we are able to recover are bones or bone fragments,’ Honea said.
The statewide total of deaths from wildfires is now at 31.
One of the fire’s victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise.
Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend.
The 29 deaths matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.
Forty-four people were killed last year after flames struck northern Californian wine country, though that was in several different fires. More than 5,000 homes were destroyed.
‘This weighs heavy on all of us,’ Honea said. ‘Myself and especially those staff members who are out there doing what is important work but certainly difficult work.’
Ten search and recovery teams are working in Paradise – a town of 27,000 that was largely incinerated on Thursday – and in surrounding communities.
Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history.
By early afternoon, one of the two black hearses stationed in Paradise had picked up another set of remains.
People looking for friends or relatives called evacuation centers, hospitals, police and the coroner’s office.
Officials and relatives held out hope that many of those unaccounted for were safe and simply had no cellphones or other ways to contact loved ones. The sheriff’s office in the stricken northern county set up a missing-persons call center to help connect people.
Gov Jerry Brown asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover.
Trump has blamed ‘poor’ forest management for the fires. Brown told a press briefing that federal and state governments must do more forest management but said that’s not the source of the problem.
‘Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change,’ Brown said. ‘And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years.’
Brown’s request for a major-disaster declaration from Trump would make victims eligible for crisis counseling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid.
Strong Santa Ana winds returned to Southern California on Sunday, causing flare-ups of a huge wildfire that has scorched a string of communities west of Los Angeles, but no additional structures were believed to have been lost, authorities said.
Officials said the wildfires may intensify due to the strong winds as more than 8,000 firefighters continue to battle the deadly infernos.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said Sunday evening that wind gusts up to 50mph are expected to continue through Tuesday.
Those conditions are similar to when the fire started Thursday and quickly destroyed the town of Paradise.
Huge plumes of smoke rose in the fire area, which stretches miles from the northwest corner of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley to the Malibu coast.
Airplanes and helicopters swooped low over hills and canyons to drop loads of fire retardant and water.
A one-day lull in the dry, northeasterly winds ended at midmorning.
‘Sadly, with these winds, it’s not over yet,’ Scott Jalbert, chief of Cal Fire’s San Luis Obispo Unit, said Sunday morning.
Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy warned that gusty winds predicted into Tuesday could spark ‘explosive fire behavior’.
The lull allowed firefighters to gain 10 percent control of the Woolsey fire, which has burned more than 130 square miles in western Los Angeles County and southeastern Ventura County since Thursday.
Osby stressed there were numerous hotspots and plenty of fuel that had not yet burned, but at sunset he said there had been huge successes despite ‘a very challenging day’.
The count of destroyed homes remained at 177 but it was expected to increase when an update is reported on Monday.
The fire’s cause remains under investigation but Southern California Edison reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an outage on an electrical circuit near where it started as Santa Ana winds blew through the region.
SoCal Edison said the report was submitted out of an abundance of caution although there was no indication from fire officials that its equipment may have been involved.
The report said the fire was reported around 2.24pm on Thursday, two minutes after the outage.
Venture County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen hadn’t heard about the Edison report. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me’ if it turns out that winds caused equipment failure that sparked a fire, he said.
Spot fires continued to occur late Sunday afternoon near the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University, where 3,500 students were sheltering in place.
The university said it was closing the Malibu campus as well as its Calabasas campus to the north until November 26 but classes would be remotely administered online and through email.
Caption-The Lagos Mail
Featured Image-PA images