Family Flees to Carlsbad After Raging Woolsey Fire Destroys Their Home

Family Flees to Carlsbad After Raging Woolsey Fire Destroys Their Home

List of missing in fire includes many in their 80s and 90s

Over 200 residents of Paradise, California remain missing after a wind-driven wildfire destroyed the Northern California town; reaction from veteran firefighter Michael Dubron.

The death toll in the largest wildfire in California history rose Tuesday as the remains of six additional people were found, officials said.

As many as 250,000 people were ordered to evacuate parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties after the Woolsey Fire flared before sunrise Thursday in rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains. The fire was 47 percent contained after scorching more than 152 square miles (394 square kilometers), engulfing homes, scenic canyon getaways and celebrity estates.

The human remains – which were found in Paradise, Butte County – were located in homes, Sheriff Kory Honea said at a news conference Tuesday. The discoveries bring the death toll in the Camp Fire to 48.

McDonnell shared photos from a Tuesday aerial survey of Los Angeles County that illustrates the Woolsey Fires destruction. One striking image shows a single swath of land: half is completely scorched, while the other looks green and vibrant. Other photos showed the fires path just barely skirting buildings and houses.

One half is green, the other is gone: Aerial photos show extent of Woolsey Fires damage

An air tanker seen here dropping water on a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in Simi Valley, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (AP)

“Each home has a life and memories attached to it,” McDonnell continued. He acknowledged the “frustration” of evacuees, eager to return to their homes, and thanked them for cooperating with officials.

More than 130,000 acres of land are still burning in Butte County as officials said nearly 6,000 firefighting personnel continue to assist in the area, where 35 percent of the fire was contained.

Viewing the Woolsey Fire burn areas from above “brings a greater understanding that each house is a home,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell in a tweet on Tuesday.

Search and rescue works search for human remains at a trailer park burned by the Camp Fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP)

“We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Tuesday.

Honea revealed that among he has around 30 staff members "who are personally affected by this fire, having been evacuated from their homes, and in some cases, having lost their homes."

Search and rescue workers search for human remains at a trailer park burned by the Camp Fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Paradise, California. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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"I had to make the executive decision today to order them to take time off because they wouldn't do it on their own," the sheriff told reporters. "We had asked them if they would take time off and they wouldn't do it because they were so committed to this."

Authorities allowed residents back into several more communities on Tuesday, including a section of Malibu.

Another official said fighting the fire "is a passion and a calling — it's not a job for us."

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell shared aerial photos of his jurisdiction after the Woolsey Fire.

A firefighter battles a blaze along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in Simi Valley, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (AP)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell shared aerial photos of his jurisdiction after the Woolsey Fire.

In Paradise, a town with a population of 27,000, roughly 7,700 homes have been destroyed by the inferno.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell shared aerial photos of his jurisdiction after the Woolsey Fire.

The dozens dead have so far been found in their homes, in burned-out cars, or next to their vehicles. 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.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell shared aerial photos of his jurisdiction after the Woolsey Fire.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office has identified four of the victims, publicly naming three. The exact number of people missing was not immediately clear.

These top-100 communities face a greater threat of significant home losses from wildfire, but also offer the most potential for reducing risk. The concentration of wildfire exposure in a small number of communities offers a clearer picture of where state, local and federal officials can target mega-fire prevention. Those efforts typically include prescribed burning, homeowner education and fire resilient development and building codes.

Carl Wiley, 77, was a tire-recapper who lived in Alaska before moving to Butte County decades ago, his son said. Wiley was a stoic veteran, and the two hadn't spoken in six years.

Chief Ken Pimlott says the dry and windy conditions fueling wildfires in California are becoming the new normal.

Earlier this month, the University of Washington and the Nature Conservancy published a study showing more than 12 million people across the country live in areas with significant fire potential and lack sufficient resources to prepare or adapt to fire. The researchers found racial and ethnic minority communities are far more vulnerable to wildfire than predominately white communities.

Ernest Foss, 63, moved to Paradise eight years ago when the high cost of living pushed him from the San Francisco Bay Area, his daughter said. He had swollen limbs and couldn't walk, and was also on oxygen.

“Here’s our list, here’s our concern. What are we gonna do about it?” said Rick Stratton, a fire analyst with the Forest Service who worked on the analysis. “‘We’ — meaning all of us. We can’t just look at the homeowner, or the state, or the feds. Everyone — that’s where we can be most successful.”

Jesus Fernandez, a 48-year-old known as "Zeus," also died. He was described as a "tireless provider, a dependable and loyal friend, a considerate neighbor, and loving father" who "will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Fire seasons have grown longer and more intense in recent years, testing firefighting resources and community resilience. As communities across California are facing unprecedented wildfire devastation, this latest analysis represents an attempt to identify the potential for such devastation in Oregon and Washington.

Shawn Slack rests after felling trees burned in the Camp Fire, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP)

In Washington, the cities of Leavenworth, Ellensburg, Selah, Spokane and Wenatchee top the list. In Oregon, the list is headed by Merlin, Redwood, Medford, Bend and Warm Springs. 

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

A small number of Northwest communities have an outsized level of exposure to wildfire, according to data released by the Forest Service.

Meanwhile, in Southern California firefighters made progress against the massive Woolsey Fire that has left two people dead in Malibu and destroyed more than 400 structures. As of 6 p.m. local time, California fire officials said more than 97,000 acres of land had burned with 40 percent of it contained.

Gov. Jerry Brown said California is "pretty well maxed out" from fighting several deadly wildfires, and he expressed gratitude for help from surrounding states and the federal government. He said the state is doing everything possible to prevent fires, but "some things only God can do."

Following the Camp Fire, figurines rest atop a scorched car on Pearson Road, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP)

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to the leveled town of Paradise, telling reporters it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.

“Now is not the time to point fingers,” Zinke said. “There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening.” He cited warmer temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.

Brown, a frequent critic of President Donald Trumps policies, said he spoke with Trump, who pledged federal assistance.

“This is so devastating that I dont really have the words to describe it,” Brown said, saying officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly.

About 7,700 homes were destroyed when flames hit Paradise, a former gold-mining camp popular with retirees, on Nov. 8, killing at least 48 people in Californias deadliest wildfire. There were also three fatalities from separate blazes in Southern California.

It will take years to rebuild the town of 27,000, if people decide thats what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains looks like a wasteland.

“The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point,” Long said. “Youre not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was.”

Temporary schools and hospitals will be brought in, Long said. Officials are also looking to bring in mobile homes for thousands of people left homeless.

Debris removal in Paradise and outlying communities will have to wait until the search for victims finishes, he said.

On one street, ash and dust flew up as roughly 20 National Guard members wearing white jumpsuits, helmets and breathing masks lifted giant heaps of bent and burned metal, in what was left of a home. Pink and blue chalk drawings of a cat and a flower remained on the driveway, near a scorched toy truck.

The soldiers targeted homes of the missing. If anything resembling human remains is found, a coroner takes over.

The number of missing is “fluctuating every day” as people are located or remains are found, said Steve Collins, a deputy with the Butte County Sheriffs Department.

Authorities on Wednesday released the names of about 100 people who are still missing, including many in their 80s and 90s, and dozens more could still be unaccounted for. Sheriffs department spokeswoman Megan McMann said the list was incomplete because detectives were concerned they would be overwhelmed with calls from relatives if the entire list were released.

Authorities have not updated the total number of missing since Sunday, when 228 people were unaccounted for.

Sol Bechtolds 75-year-old mother was not on the list. Her house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, a community just north of Paradise.

“The list they published is missing a lot of names,” said Bechtold, whos still searching shelters for his mother, a widow who lived alone and did not drive.

A sheriffs deputy asked Bechtold on Wednesday for information that could identify her remains, like any history of broken bones. He told the officer she had a knee replacement. Bechtold predicted that the death toll would rise sharply.

“I feel horrible for the sheriff. I feel horrible for the people of Paradise and Magalia,” he said. “Its just a no-win situation unless a few hundred folks just show up out of nowhere.”

To speed up identification of remains, officials are using portable devices that can identify genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

Accounts of narrow escapes from the flames continued to emerge. More than a dozen people who were trapped by a wall of fire survived by plunging into a cold lake.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that a family of four, their 90-year-old neighbor and their pets sought safety in the chilly Concow Reservoir after the roaring fire surrounded their homes.

The family stood in shoulder-deep water as flames singed the vegetation on the shore behind them. Not far away, at least a dozen others rushed into the lake after the caravan of vehicles they were in was cut off by flames.

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place that two utilities reported equipment trouble.

People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not returned.

Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco.


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