Search teams were heading back into the devastated town of Paradise on Tuesday with the grim expectation of finding more bodies in the charred remnants of the Sierra Nevada retirement community. With a toll of 42 dead, the fire is already the deadliest in California history, and more than 200 people remain missing.
Adding to the 13 coroner teams from across the state that were already working to locate the dead in and around Paradise, the Butte County sheriff announced a sharp increase in experts who specialize in finding human remains: 150 extra search-and-rescue personnel, cadaver dogs and two portable, temporary morgue units from the military. The sheriff is also seeking to bring in a machine to “expedite the analysis of DNA” to speed up the identification of remains.
Here are the latest developments:
• The Camp Fire, as the blaze that ripped through Paradise is known, is only about 30 percent contained and has burned through 125,000 acres. It continues to rage in the hills and ravines east of the city of Chico “Winds are decreasing,” said Jim Mathews, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “But conditions are still dry.”
• It is also the most destructive fire in California history, with more than 7,600 structures destroyed, most of them homes.
• Two people have died in the Woolsey Fire, which is burning west of Los Angeles and swept through parts of Malibu. About 435 structures have been destroyed and as many as 57,000 structures are believed to be under threat. The fire has is 35 percent contained and has charred more than 96,000 acres.
• The Hill Fire in Ventura County has been kept to more than 4,500 acres and is 90 percent contained.
• Weather conditions in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties will be “very similar” to those on Monday, said Tom Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., but, he added, “the wind will decrease through Thursday.”
• President Trump on Monday evening said on Twitter that he had approved a request to declare the fires in California a major disaster, making people affected eligible for various types of federal government support.
• See where the fires have burned in the graphic below.
Maps: Tracking Where the California Wildfires Are Spreading
Wildfires burned in California near the Sierra Nevada foothills and the Los Angeles shoreline, engulfing about 200,000 acres.
The deadliest fire in California history
The inferno that ravaged the wooded town of Paradise in Northern California last week became the deadliest wildfire in the state’s modern history on Monday when officials said they had discovered the remains of 13 more people, bringing the death toll to 42.
“My sincere hope is that I don’t have to come here each night and report a higher and higher number,” the Butte County sheriff, Kory L. Honea, said at a news conference on Monday night.
The authorities on Monday night released the names of three people who were killed: Ernest Foss, 65, from Paradise; Jesus Fernandez, 48, from Concow; and Carl Wiley, 77, from Magalia.
Firefighters worked to contain the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, Calif., on Tuesday.CreditEric Thayer for The New York Times
The death toll in the Camp Fire surpassed the Griffith Park Fire of 1933, which killed 29 people and for decades had held the infamous distinction of being California’s deadliest wildfire. Read more about the Griffith Park Fire here.
Many people have not been heard from since the fire
Among the missing in Paradise are many older residents of the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, a close-knit retirement community of 97 pastel-colored homes, where residents were so tightly bound that they ate together, took walks together and often prayed together, bowing their heads at the mailbox, or in the middle of the street, when they heard of another’s misfortune. Just 20 or so of those people are accounted for by the park’s owner, Glen Fuller.
Ridgewood was flattened by the fire, a remarkable feat of destruction even for a blaze defined by its speed and brutality. Because the fire came from the east — the park sits east of downtown — it is likely that the people of Ridgewood were among the first to be hit by the flames. Compounding the danger, many of the residents were older, making a hasty escape difficult.
This means that those who did make it out — chased by the sound of exploding propane tanks — have been left to wait for news of the people they cared for most.
Scenes that are reminiscent of a war zone
A line of burned-out cars on the side of a road. The charred remains of an old pickup truck, brightened by a pristine American flag draped over the cab. Desperate residents fleeing, cars packed with people and family heirlooms, anything that could be frantically scooped up.
One after another, the images could be from any number of conflict zones. But this is California.
As the state once again battles devastating wildfires north and south, at every point in the panorama of disaster underway there is a semblance of war — the scenes, the scents, the sounds, the emotions, and even the language of firefighting, of “aerial assaults” and “boots on the ground.”
War, of course, with its human causes and combatants, is not the same as a natural disaster, even though they can sometimes feel the same for those caught in the middle.
“There’s visual similarities in the disorder and chaos and smoke and fire and all that,” said Robert Spangle, who lives in Malibu and served in the Marine Corps, with two deployments to Afghanistan.
Malibu remained under evacuation orders on Tuesday morning, but other nearby cities were slowly reopening to residents. State officials said residents of Hidden Hills, plus people from parts of Calabasas, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, were being allowed back on their property.
And it is not only the destruction that is reminding people of a war zone. Read more about the camaraderie of those banding together to fight the fires and help their neighbors.