Wed, Nov 14, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Deadliest wildfire in California kills 44

MAJOR DISASTER:A team of anthropologists and a DNA lab were picking through charred human remains as officials prepared to bring in so-called cadaver dogs

AFP, PARADISE, California

Chris and Nancy Brown embrace while looking over the remains of their burned home after the Camp Fire tore through Paradise, California, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

The death toll from a huge blaze in northern California rose to 42 on Monday, increasing the statewide death toll to 44 and making it the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Thousands of firefighters spent a fifth day digging battle lines to contain the Camp Fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada north of Sacramento, while search teams were on a grim mission to recover the dead.

“As of today, an additional 13 human remains have been recovered, which brings the total number to 42,” Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference.

The blaze is “the deadliest wildland fire in California history,” Honea said.

Although it is difficult to be certain due to inconsistencies in record keeping and categorization, the Camp Fire appears to be the deadliest US wildfire in a century — since the Cloquet Fire killed an estimated 1,000 people in Minnesota in 1918.

The Camp Fire is the largest of several infernos that have sent 250,000 people fleeing their homes across the tinder-dry state, with winds of up to 100kph fanning the fast-moving flames.

In addition to the historic loss of life, the Camp Fire blaze is also more destructive than any other on record, having razed 6,500 homes in the town of Paradise, effectively wiping it off the map.

More than 5,100 firefighters from as far as the states of Washington and Texas have been working to halt the advance of the inferno as “mass casualty” search teams backed by anthropologists and a DNA lab pick through the charred ruins to identify remains — sometimes reduced to no more than shards of bone.

“We’re now at a point where we’re going to bring in human remains detector dogs, or what often are referred to as cadaver dogs,” Honea said.

At least 44 people have died in fire zones in north and south California, where acrid smoke has blanketed the sky for miles, the sun barely visible.

US President Donald Trump “declared that a major disaster exists in the state of California and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires,” the White House said in a statement.

The move makes aid available to the state’s fire-hit Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

On the ground, cars caught in the flames have been reduced to scorched metal skeletons, while piles of debris smolder where houses once stood, an occasional brick wall or chimney remaining.

Glenn Simmons, 64, told reporters in the town of Chico that he had been sleeping in his car since Thursday, unable to find a space in a shelter.

“I was planning on maybe moving out of state, or into southern California... Everything is burned up. I have my clothes and I have a backpack, and that’s pretty much it,” he said.

The Camp Fire has reduced about 45km2 of Butte County’s forested hills mostly to charred wasteland — an area which has not seen rainfall of more than 1cm in more than 30 weeks.

It was 25 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Three firefighters have been injured in the effort to quell the blaze’s advance.

At the southern end of the state, another three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire, which has devoured mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity resort of Malibu.

The blaze is similar in size to the Camp Fire, but has been much less destructive, and the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway.

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