California wildfires claim 42 lives, over 230 still missing; fire department search ops hampered by strong winds

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 — as crews continued searching for bodies in the smoldering ruins, with nearly 230 people unaccounted for.

The Associated Press November 13, 2018 07:37:20 IST
California wildfires claim 42 lives, over 230 still missing; fire department search ops hampered by strong winds

Paradise: Authorities have reported 13 more fatalities from a blaze in Northern California that destroyed a town, bringing the total death toll so far to 42 and making it the deadliest wildfire in recorded state history. The dead have been found in burned-out cars, in the smoldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could jump in behind the wheel and escape.

In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner's investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them

Meanwhile, crews continued searching for bodies in the smoldering ruins, as nearly 230 people remain 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.

California wildfires claim 42 lives over 230 still missing fire department search ops hampered by strong winds

Firefighters assess the damage to a neighborhood in the aftermath of a wildfire. AP

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.

In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner's investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them. The search for bodies was continuing.

All told, more 8,000 firefighters battled wildfires that scorched at least 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) 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 that 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.

In Southern California , firefighters beat back a new round of winds Sunday and the fire's growth was believed to have been largely stopped, though extremely low humidity and gusty Santa Ana winds were in the forecast through at least Tuesday.

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