Worst Firestorm Since Records Began Claims 31 Lives Across California

Firebrains | FireFire
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Woolsey Fire is destroying homes in Malibu. Credit: Yahoo

The Camp Fire in Butte County has matched the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles as the deadliest wildfire in California history, as authorities Sunday evening announced six new bodies had been found, bringing the grim total to 29. The total death toll for the three fires raging at both ends of California is now 31, while officials warned that that toll is likely to rise.

“We are very early in our efforts. There is still a great deal of work to do,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “There are 10 coroner’s search and recover teams looking for those who perished in the fire.

Extreme fire weather continued Sunday as the Camp Fire in Butte County grew to 111,000 acres and continued to burn. Containment remained stuck at 25-percent, although firefighters had a better day Sunday. There are another 228 people still considered missing and unaccounted for, while authorities have been able to locate 107 who had been reported missing.

Statewide, an estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes as more than 8,000 fire crews battle wildfires that have scorched 400 square miles, with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive. Whipping winds and tinder-dry conditions threaten more areas through the rest of the week, fire officials warned.

“I have never seen anything like this – wind speeds were incredible and the fire was impossible to stop,” Captain Rodney Hayball said.

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The fires seen from space. Credit: NASA

With strengthening winds threatening to spread the flames, California Governor Jerry Brown has urged President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster, a move that would harness more federal emergency funds.

Three wildfires at the same time, the ever-increasing numbers of dead and the sheer speed with which the flames engulfed huge areas makes this the worst firestorm since records began. In southern California, the Woolsey Fire has claimed two lives as it damaged beach resorts including Malibu.

  • Camp Fire, Butte County: 29 dead, 111,000-acres, 25% contained
  • Woolsey Fire, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties: 2 dead, 85,500-acres, 15% contained
  • Hill Fire, Venture County: 4,531-acres, 75% contained
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Current state of California’s wildfires. Credit: BBC

As a result of the Camp Fire burning near Paradise in Northern California, the entire Bay Area, much of the Central Valley and even Monterey, which is more than 200 miles away from the blaze, as the crow flies, are experiencing unhealthy air quality that began wafting in on seasonal winds just hours after the wildfire sparked Thursday.

“Everybody is at risk with poor air quality in the unhealthy range,” Sharon Chinthrajah, a pulmonologist and allergist with Stanford Health Care, said Sunday.

Forecasters say a clearing of the smoky conditions might not occur until Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Smoke lingers in the air. Credit: ABC News

Drought and warmer weather attributed to climate change and the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in California. While California officially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the northern two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.


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