Crews on Saturday fought two massive, out of control wildfires burning at both ends of California, including a blaze now considered the most destructive in state history and a conflagration menacing the tony beach colony of Malibu.
At least nine people were killed in and around the Northern California community of Paradise as the Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses, more structures than any other California wildfire on record.
Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said most of the town’s homes and about half its businesses had been left in ruins, predicting a long road of recovery was ahead for the town of about 26,000 residents.
“It’s going to be a process, a lot of hard work, a lot of coming together, but we want to see Paradise be paradise again,” Jones told CNN.
Several of the victims of the Camp Fire, which broke out on Thursday at the edge of the Plumas National Forest northeast of Sacramento, were found in or near burned out cars, police said.
The flames descended on Paradise so fast that many people were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives down the sole road through the mountain town.
Some 35 people had been reported missing and three firefighters had been injured.
As of Saturday afternoon the Camp Fire had blackened more than 100,000 acres (40,500 hectares) of forest land. Crews had cut containment lines around about 20 per cent of the blaze.
About 800 km to the south, the Woolsey Fire burning in the foothills above Malibu doubled in size overnight, threatening thousands of homes after triggering mandatory evacuation orders for a quarter million people in the oceanside city as well as other communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The fire has destroyed “a lot of homes,” with a full count still under way, and has now charred more than 70,000 acres, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
“Our firefighters have been facing some extreme, tough fire conditions that they said that they’ve never seen in their lives,” Osby said at a news conference.
He said crews hoped to take advantage of a lull on Saturday in the fierce Santa Ana winds driving the flames, but that gusts could return on Sunday.
All 13,000 residents of Malibu, which is 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, were told to get out on Friday.
The bodies of two people were discovered in Malibu but it was too early to determine if they died from fire or another cause, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials said.
Firefighters have been unable to build any containment lines around the Woolsey Fire, but officials said they hoped to take advantage of a lull in winds on Saturday to make progress.
The Woolsey Fire broke out on Thursday in Ventura County near Los Angeles and quickly jumped the 101 Freeway, a major north-south artery, in several places.
On Friday, it crossed the Santa Monica Mountains toward Malibu, where flames driven by wind gusts of up to 80 kph raced down hillsides and through canyons toward multi-million dollar homes.
Early on Saturday, flames approached Malibu’s Pepperdine University, a private residential college with 7,700 students, where many remained sheltered on the main campus.
School officials told the students that they have been assured by fire officials that the university’s buildings were built to withstand fire.
Among those forced to flee the Malibu area were celebrities including Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, who said on Twitter that flames had damaged the home she shares in nearby Calabasas with Kanye West.
In Ventura County, most of the town of Thousand Oaks was ordered evacuated, adding to the anguish days after a gunman killed 12 people in a shooting rampage at a bar.
President Donald Trump, weighing in on the emergency during a trip to France, said early on Saturday that “gross mismanagement of forests” was to blame.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he wrote in a Twitter post.
Trump, a Republican, has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.
State officials have blamed climate change and say many of the burn areas have been in federally-managed lands.
“Our focus is on the Californians impacted by these fires and the first responders and firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property – not on the President’s inane and uninformed tweets,” Evan Westrub, a spokesman for California Governor Jerry Brown said in an email.
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