California’s Deadliest Fire Leaves 48 Dead, Hundreds Missing
Search teams in the U.S. state of California found more bodies Tuesday in areas ravaged by the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, bringing the overall death toll to 48.
Crews are working with cadaver dogs and a rapid DNA analysis system in and around Paradise, a town of 27,000 people where in the span of a few days a rapidly moving fire destroyed more than 7,000 homes.
Authorities said more than 200 people were still unaccounted for as the searches continued and the fire advanced to the north and east of Paradise.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters the six bodies discovered Tuesday were found in homes.
When asked if authorities had done enough to warn people to evacuate, Honea said they did their best, and that after this fire is fully dealt with there will be time to examine what lessons can be learned for the future.
“We were trying to move tens of thousands of people out of an area, very rapidly, with the fire coming very rapidly, and no matter what your plan is to do that, no plan will ever work 100 percent when you’re dealing with that much chaos,” he said.
Wildfires are common in California, particularly at this time of year when warm, dry winds help quickly spread flames.
Honea said it’s possible people were lulled into a false sense of security by the past success fire crews had in controlling fires that broke out in the region.
“I think often times people rely on their past experience, and perhaps in this case to their detriment,” he said.
Thousands of firefighters are working to control the so-called “Camp Fire,” and by late Tuesday it was 35 percent contained.
Fire officials said they had success as the weather conditions that had made the fires so prone to spread eased somewhat, but that lingering swirling winds and the steep terrain where they are working present challenges.
Aviva Braun of the National Weather Service said the air will remain dry this week and that the prospects for rain are looking more promising toward the end of next week. She also said that the lighter winds are causing smoke from the fires to settle instead of blow away, making for poor air quality.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
In addition to the Camp Fire, two smaller fires in southern California have killed two people since last week.
President Donald Trump has declared the fires a major disaster, freeing up federal funding for those affected by the blazes.
He pledged Tuesday to do “everything in our power to support our fellow citizens in harms way.”
“We mourn the lives of those lost and we pray for the victims, and there are more victims than anybody would ever think possible. I want to thank the firefighters and FEMA and first responders for their incredible courage in the face of very grave danger,” he said.
Over the weekend, Trump had threatened to cut off government assistance to California because of what he said was poor forest management in the state, the most populous in the United States.
Trump made no mention of years-long drought conditions in the state. California Governor Jerry Brown said federal and state governments could improve forest management, but said climate change with warmer temperatures was a bigger source of the fire hazard.