Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Worst Wildfires in California History Death Toll Jumps to 25 as 200,000 Flee Inferno

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Worst Wildfires in California History Death Toll Jumps to 25 as 200,000 Flee Inferno

Article excerpt

MALIBOU LAKE, Calif. -A growing trio of wildfires incinerated large swaths of Northern and Southern California over the past three days, killing at least 25 people, displacing hundreds of thousands and turning a retirement community called Paradise into acres of ash and charred foundations.

The massive Camp Fire north of Sacramento had destroyed some 6,700 structures, becoming the most destructive inferno in a state with a long and calamitous history of fires.

Since Thursday, more than 200,000 Californians have been displaced - greater than the population of the city of Orlando, Fla. In addition to the dead, dozens have been reported missing.

Authorities warned that the property losses would also be staggering. A pair of fires near Los Angeles threatened Malibu mansions and destroyed Paramount Ranch, the filming location of the HBO series Westworld.

Before officials announced the latest grim statistics and rising death toll Saturday, President Donald Trump fanned an ongoing dispute with California leaders, blaming mismanagement of state resources for the destruction and death.

"There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor," Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday morning. "Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"

California officials have countered Mr. Trump's claims in the past, saying that ever-intense fires are the result of global warming, which dries up vegetation and turns fire-prone areas of the state into a tinderbox.

The president's comments drew outrage from local leaders and firefighters' organizations.

"At this moment, thousands of our brother and sister firefighters are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of thousands," said Brian Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters, which represents more than 30,000 firefighters and paramedics. "Some of them are doing so even as their own homes lay in ruins."

California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom responded to Mr. Trump on Twitter, noting that this was "not a time for partisanship."

"This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up," he said.

Mr. Trump took a more empathetic tone later in the day, tweeting sympathies for firefighters, people who have fled their homes and the families of those killed by the flames.

Nearly 60 percent of California's 33 million acres of forestland are owned by the federal government, according to a 2018 report by the California Legislative Analyst's Office. An additional 25 percent of the state's forests are privately owned, and about 14 percent are owned by industrial owners like timber companies. State and local governments own just 3 percent of the state's forests.

In Northern California's Butte County, about 90 miles north of state capital Sacramento, residents described fleeing a catastrophic fire that began Thursday. The inferno grew with incredible speed, claimed nine lives, and turned a sunny day into an end-of-days scene of flames, smoke, sparks and wide destruction.

Named after nearby Camp Creek, the blaze is not yet done. It had burned at least 90,000 acres, more than 140 square miles, and was only 20 percent contained by Saturday, causing officials to declare a state of emergency for a fire likely to worsen over the weekend.

Officials warned that "red flag" conditions would persist on and off through Monday, hot, dry and windy weather that makes the land ripe for a fire's spread.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters Saturday that 14 bodies were discovered as officials stepped up the search for missing people.

He said in some cases investigators had found only bones of bone fragments. They are receiving help from anthropologists from nearby California State University, Chico. …

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