The death toll from the wildfire that incinerated Paradise and surrounding areas climbed to 29 — matching the mark for the deadliest single blaze in California history.
Crews continued searching for bodies in the smouldering ruins, with nearly 230 people unaccounted for.
Statewide the number of dead stood at 31, including two victims in Southern California, from wildfires raging at both ends of the state.
Ten search teams were working in Paradise — a town of 27,000 that was engulfed by flames Thursday — and in surrounding communities in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada foothills. Authorities called in a DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify what in some cases were only bones or bone fragments.
All told, more than 8,000 firefighters battled wildfires that scorched at least 1,040 square kilometres of the state, with the flames feeding on dry brush and driven by winds that had a blowtorch effect.
“This is truly a tragedy that all Californians can understand and respond to,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday. “It’s a time to pull together and work through these tragedies.”
California is requesting emergency aid from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has blamed what he called poor forest management for the fires.
The governor said the federal and state governments must do more forest management but that climate change is the greater source of the problem.
“And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing and will continue to witness in the coming years,” Brown said.
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.
Celebrities whose coastal homes were damaged or destroyed or who were forced to flee expressed sympathy for the less famous and offered their gratitude to firefighters.
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Returned to my house in Malibu after evacuating. Heartbreaking time across California. Inspired as ever by the courage, spirit and sacrifice of firefighters. Thank you @LosAngelesFireDepartment. If you can, support these brave men and women at SupportLAFD.org. Link in bio.
The magnitude of the devastation was beginning to set in even as the blaze raged on. Public safety officials toured the Paradise area to begin discussing the recovery. Much of what makes the city function was gone.
“Paradise was literally wiped off the map,” said Tim Aboudara, a fireighters union representative. He said at least 36 firefighters lost their own homes, most in the Paradise area.
Others continued the desperate search for friends or relatives, calling evacuation centres, hospitals, police and the coroner’s office.
The 29 dead in Northern California matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. A series of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country last fall killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes.
The Associated Press