California wildfire toll matches deadliest ever with 29 victims


Paradise • The death toll in a raging California wildfire has reached 29 at press time, matching the deadliest in the state’s history as firefighters battling blazes at both ends of the state yesterday braced for strong winds.

The “Camp Fire” — in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Sacramento — is the largest and most destructive of several infernos that have broken out.

The flames have sent 250,000 people fleeing their homes across the tinder-dry state and razed 6,400 homes in the town of Paradise, effectively wiping it off the map.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea announced the new death toll at a news conference on Sunday, adding that all were found in Paradise area.

At least 31 people have died in fire zones in north and south California, where acrid smoke blanketed the sky for miles, the sun barely visible.

On the ground, cars caught in the flames were reduced to scorched metal skeletons, while homes were left as smouldering piles of debris, with an occasional brick wall or chimney remaining.

Some 200 people remained un-accounted for in the Paradise area alone, officials said. Several areas were left without cell phone service.

The fire matched the 1933 Griffith Park disaster in Los Angeles — until now the single deadliest wildfire on record, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

At the southern end of the state, the “Woolsey Fire” has destroyed mansions and mobile homes in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, where the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway.

Singer Miley Cyrus’ home was one of the buildings destroyed.

The National Weather Service has issued a “Red Flag” alert for fire-affected Los Angeles and Ventura County. The service warned of “extremely critical fire weather conditions through Tuesday”.

Evacuation orders have been issued to more than a quarter of a million people across California.

While some Malibu-area residents were allowed to return home late on Sunday, the entire city of Calabasas — just northeast of Malibu — came under evacuation orders.

“This is not the new normal, this is the new abnormal. And this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years,” California governor Jerry Brown said on Sunday. “Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that the dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify.” — AFP