California wildfire toll matches deadliest ever with 29 victims

Published November 12, 2018, 7:38 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse

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

A helicopter drops water on a burning ridge just east of Paradise, California (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
A helicopter drops water on a burning ridge just east of Paradise, California (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

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 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 smoldering piles of debris, with an occasional brick wall or chimney remaining.

Some 200 people remained unaccounted for in the Paradise area alone, officials said. Several fire-affected 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 (Cal Fire).

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.

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.”

It said winds of up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour were expected in the coastal region, and up to 60 mph (96 kph) in mountainous areas.