Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Death toll from wildfires hits 31 at both ends of California

Published:Monday | November 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Camp Fire burns along a ridgetop near Big Bend, California, on Saturday, November 10. Crews working to contain the blaze overnight faced deteriorating weather conditions according to CalFire as winds picked up and humidity dropped.

PARADISE, California (AP):

Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify the dead as the search went on for victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history. The overall death toll from the outbreak of fires at both ends of the state stood at 31 Sunday and appeared likely to rise.

All told, more than 8,000 firefighters battled three large wildfires burning across nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometres) in Northern and Southern California, with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive and gusty, blowtorch winds forecast into Monday.

The worst of the blazes was in Northern California, where flames reduced the town of Paradise, population 27,000, to a smoking ruin days ago and continued to rage in surrounding communities. The number of people killed in that fire alone, at least 23, made it the third-deadliest on record in the state.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county was bringing in more rescue workers and consulted anthropologists from California State University at Chico because in some cases, "the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments".

"This weighs heavy on all of us," Honea said.

Authorities encouraged people with missing relatives to submit DNA samples to aid in identifying the dead after the blaze destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes.

 

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The sheriff's department compiled a list of 110 people unaccounted for, but officials held out hope that many were safe but had no cell phones or some other way to contact loved ones.

Firefighters gained modest ground overnight against the blaze, which grew slightly to 170 square miles (440 square kilometres) from the day before but was 25 per cent contained, up from 20 per cent, according to state fire agency, Cal Fire.

But Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy warned that gusty winds predicted into Monday morning could spark "explosive fire behaviour".

Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California, where flames tore through Malibu mansions and homes in working-class Los Angeles suburbs. The severely burned bodies were discovered in a long residential driveway in Malibu, home to a multitude of Hollywood celebrities.

Among those forced out of their homes were Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, Guillermo del Toro, and Martin Sheen.