The raging blaze in Northern California claimed the lives of at least 44 people on Nov. 13, becoming the deadliest wildfire in state history.
With more than 200 people still missing, authorities feared the death toll may climb as search teams prepared to sift through the charred wreckage of Paradise, California, the town where most of the death and destruction took place.
The small town with a population of 27,000 people was virtually wiped off the map overnight on Nov. 8, hours after the fire started.
Search teams found the bodies of 13 more victims on Nov. 12, bringing the Camp Fire death toll to 42, authorities said. Two more people died in the separate Woolsey Fire near Southern California’s Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.
The death toll makes the Camp Fire the deadliest blaze in California history, surpassing the grim record attributed to the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933 which killed 29 people.
On Nov. 13, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea was expecting the arrival of 150 search-and-recovery personnel, bolstering 13 coroner-led recovery teams in the fire zone. Honea has requested three portable morgue teams from the U.S. military, a “disaster mortuary” crew, cadaver dog units to locate human remains and three groups of forensic anthropologists.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the fires. The California Public Utilities Commission launched probes that may include inspections of the fire sites once the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) allows access, according to the Chico Enterprise-Record.
The Camp Fire destroyed 7,100 homes and buildings since igniting in Butte County’s Sierra foothills, 40 miles north of Sacramento. The Woolsey Fire consumed 435 structures and displaced 200,000 people.
Nearly 9,000 firefighters from 17 states have been battling the fires. Fire crews arrived from Oregon, Texas, Missouri, and Georgia, among other states.
PG&E Corp, which operates in northern California, and Edison International, the owner of Southern California Edison Co, have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas where fires were reported around the time they started.
PG&E spokesman Blair Jones told KRCR TV on Nov. 13, that prior to the outbreak of the Camp Fire, the site had not been “an area we were looking as a potential shut-off area.”
More than 15,000 structures were threatened by the Camp Fire on Nov. 12, in an area where smoke had reduced visibility to under half a mile in some places.
Firefighting crews have carved containment lines around 30 percent of the Camp Fire perimeter, an area encompassing 117,000 scorched acres. To the south, Woolsey Fire has blackened nearly 94,000 acres and was also 30 percent contained on the night of Nov. 12, according to Cal Fire.
Winds of up to 40 mph were expected to continue in Southern California through Tuesday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes ignited by scattered embers. Cal Fire said 57,000 structures were still in harm’s way from the Woolsey Fire.
Some evacuees in Malibu, a seaside community whose residents include a number of Hollywood celebrities, were allowed to return home Monday, but found themselves without power or cell phone service.
California has recently endured two of the worst wildfire seasons in its history, a situation experts attribute in large part to prolonged drought across much of the western United States.
President Donald Trump declared the California fires a major disaster on Nov. 12.
“Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected,” the president wrote on Twitter.
The president previously blamed the fires on poor forest management practices. Dry brush and timber serve as fuel for the wildfires. These fuels can be removed through active forest management or selective for-profit harvesting, but both practices have been suppressed in the state by decades-long legal and legislative campaigns driven by environmentalists.
The collapse of a once-thriving wood harvesting industry led to a predictable rise in combustible fuel in forests across the state, Chuck DeVore, the vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote in Forbes.
More than half of California’s forest land is managed by the federal government. Burdensome regulations enacted since the 1990s made nearly impossible to harvest these forests. With no financial incentive, management of the forests declined. In the meantime, the state’s shift to solar and wind power and away from burning the biomass harvested from forests also contributed to a rise in combustible material.
“Over time the fire-prone forests that were not thinned, burn in uncharacteristically destructive wildfires, and the resulting loss of forest carbon is much greater than would occur if the forest had been thinned before fire moved through,” concluded a 2006 report by the Western Governor’s Association. “In the long term, leaving forests overgrown and prone to unnaturally destructive wildfires means there will be significantly less biomass on the ground, and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times