Sunday, 16 December 2018

Paradise lost in raging California fires

AFP

CALIFORNIA: Rescue workers recovered multiple bodies on Saturday from the charred remains of residences in a California town ravaged by the most destructive fire to hit the US state.

Firefighters are battling raging blazes at both ends of California, but there is little hope of containing the flames anytime soon.

More than 250,000 people have been ordered to evacuate a wide area near the state capital Sacramento and, in southern California, the Hollywood resort town of Malibu.

In the town of Paradise, in Butte County, rescuers removed remains over a period of several hours and placed them in a black hearse. Pieces of bodies were transported by bucket, while intact remains were carried in body bags.

So far, all the dead have been reported in Paradise, where more than 6,700 buildings — most of them residences — have been consumed by the late-season inferno.

US President Donald Trump put the death toll at 25 on Saturday evening — a count that seemed set to rise with bodies being recovered in Paradise.

“Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died,” Trump tweeted.

From miles around, acrid smoke could be seen in the sky around Paradise, the sun barely visible. On the ground, cars were reduced to metal carcasses, while power lines were also gnawed by the flames.

Locals fled the danger, but police told AFP some farmers returned to check on their cattle.

“The magnitude of destruction we have seen is really unbelievable and heartbreaking, and our hearts go to everybody who has been affected by this,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services.

Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to provide assistance to the hardest-hit areas in the fire-prone state.

The fast-moving blaze in the north, which authorities have named the “Camp Fire,” broke out early Thursday.

Fanned by strong winds, it has so far scorched 100,000 acres (40,500 hectares) and is 20 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said Saturday. So far, three of the more than 3,200 firefighters deployed have been injured.

They estimate they will need three weeks to fully contain the blaze.

Local power authorities have told state officials an outage occurred near the spot where the fire erupted, The Sacramento Bee reported, but there is still no official cause of the Camp blaze.

Trump, who was in France for World War I commemorations, drew criticism online for his somewhat unsympathetic reaction to the devastation earlier on Saturday.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted.

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