- The death toll from the California wildfires had risen to 50. On Tuesday, six more bodies were recovered.
- The Camp Fire in northern California destroyed an entire town in less than a day and has killed at least 48 people, making it the deadliest fire in the state’s history. Authorities said it was 35% contained on Wednesday morning.
- The Woolsey Fire on the outskirts of LA has burned more than 150 square miles, and is just shy of 50% contained.
- The flames are being fueled by dry, hot conditions and strong winds.
- California wildfires are becoming so frequent and pervasive that officials there say there’s almost no need for the term “wildfire season” anymore.
California’s Camp Fire is now the deadliest wildfire the state has ever seen.
On Tuesday evening, the Butte County Sheriff’s office announced that six more bodies had been found, bringing the fire’s death toll to 48. Hundreds of people are still missing; the sheriff’s office has released a partial list of 100 names, but there are certainly more.
The fire, which continues to rage across Butte County, less than 100 miles north of Sacramento, is now roughly one-third contained. So far, it has scorched 210 square miles of land, an area nearly the size of Chicago.
Coroner search teams are going house to house (or rather, from plot to plot) in the burned-down town of Paradise to search for victims. Abandoned cars in driveways can be a tell-tale sign that residents might not have escaped in time. Sifting through the ashes, the teams sometimes only recover a few remains of a fire victim to put in a body bag.
“The long bag looks almost empty as it’s carefully carried out of the ruins and placed in a black hearse,” Gillian Flaccus with the Associated Press reported from Paradise on Monday night.
The other dangerous wildfire raging in California, the Woolsey Fire, has burned 150 square miles in the hills around Los Angeles. Two people were killed in the Woolsey fire on Friday, bringing the statewide death total to 50.
The Woolsey Fire has been fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds and has destroyed an estimated 483 structures, mostly homes. Over the last couple of days, firefighters have strengthened their hold on the flames - the fire is nearly 50% contained and growing at a slower pace than it did over the weekend.
Still, red-flag warnings are in effect for southern California through Wednesday evening. The warning means conditions are dry and windy enough to create what the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) calls "extreme fire behavior." That makes the Woolsey blaze tougher to fight.
Already this year, 7,578 fires have burned across California, fueled by hot, dry conditions and aggressive winds. The causes of both the Woolsey and the Camp Fires are still under investigation, but sparking power lines may have played a role in Camp.
The Camp Fire is most deadly and destructive in California history
- Business Insider/Cal Fire
The Camp Fire has moved at a breakneck pace since it broke out on Thursday morning. The blaze charred the entire town of Paradise, home to 27,000 people, in a day. More than 7,600 homes and 260 businesses have been destroyed so far, making the Camp Fire the most destructive wildfire in California history in terms of structures lost.
The flames spread so fast - at a pace of 80 football fields per minute - that at least six people burned to death in their cars as they tried to escape, the Butte County Sheriff's Department said. Five of those bodies were found near Edgewood Lane in Paradise, in or near "vehicles that were overcome by the Camp Fire," the sheriff's office said. Officials were not immediately able to identify those victims because of their burn injuries.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county is working with anthropologists from California State University at Chico to help identify bone fragments among ash in the area.
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
"The fire was so close I could feel it in my car through rolled up windows," Rita Miller, who fled Paradise with her disabled mother told the Associated Press.
Other residents ran from the fire on foot, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Fortunately, winds are settling, humidity is rising, and there's a potential for rain in the forecast next week. Those factors may give firefighters a boost, but Cal Fire doesn't expect the Camp Fire to be fully extinguished until the end of November.
- NASA Earth Observatory
California Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Butte County on Thursday and sent a letter to President Donald Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asking for federal assistance.
President Trump approved some federal assistance for the California fires on Friday, but then threatened via Twitter over the weekend that there may be "no more Fed payments!" unless California forests are better managed. (The federal government oversees 40% of California land.)
Trump later said he approved an "expedited request" for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would provide federal assistance for people affected. That means people whose homes or places of work were hit by the Woolsey or Camp Fire will be able to apply for federal assistance.
"Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on," Trump said in a tweet on Monday. "I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a release that "assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster."
- Katie Canales/Business Insider
Smoke from the Camp Fire has blanketed wide swaths of Northern California in a gray haze. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the air throughout much of the San Francisco Bay Area is "unhealthy" to breathe.
Federal air monitors have suggested that older adults, children, teens, and people with heart and lung conditions should limit their time outside because of the high number of dangerously small pollutants in the air. Some people have donned masks to protect their lungs.
The Hill and Woolsey fires have burned over 100,000 acres in Ventura and LA counties
The Woolsey Fire claimed two victims on Friday. The burned bodies were found in a "long, narrow" Malibu driveway near Mulholland Highway, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.
At its peak, the fire forced over 275,000 people from their homes. It has burned at least 97,600 acres of land and threatened mobile homes and celebrity mansions alike. Celebrities like Gerard Butler, Miley Cyrus, and Neil Young all lost their houses.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the country's largest urban national park, was also hit: 83% of that land has burned, according to the Los Angeles Times. Flames and smoke sent bobcats and mountain lions in the area scampering. The blaze also destroyed the storied filming location of Western Town, where the shows "Westworld" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" were shot.
Cal Fire expects the Woolsey Fire to be fully extinguished by the end of this coming weekend.
- Business Insider/Cal Fire
Carol Napoli, who lives at the Vallecito mobile home park for seniors in Newbury Park, said the flames approached the park so fast that an elderly friend in her 90s didn't have time to grab her oxygen tank before they bolted in a car.
"We drove through flames to get out," Napoli told the Associated Press. "My girlfriend was driving. She said, 'I don't know if I can do this ...' Her son said, 'Mom you have to, you have to drive through the flames.'"
Residents are starting to stream back into some sections of southern Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and northern Topanga. You can view current fire perimeters, evacuation updates, as well as shelter and donation information on the Ventura County Emergency Information site, the Ventura County Recovers site, and the LA County Woolsey Fire site.
Another smaller fire in southern California, the Hill Fire, charred over 4,500 acres but was nearly out (94% contained) by Wednesday. The Woolsey and Hill Fires both threatened the town of Thousand Oaks, where residents were already reeling from a deadly mass shooting in which 12 people were murdered. Three-quarters of Thousand Oaks residents were under mandatory evacuation orders over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.
Resident Cynthia Ball told the AP it was "like 'welcome to hell.'"
"If you were affected by the Woolsey or Hill fires, the Thousand Oaks mass shooting, or both, you can call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text 'TalkWithUs' to 66746 for emotional support and resources," the LA County website reads.
Wildfires are no longer limited to one season
The flames in southern California have been fueled by hot, dry conditions and spread by Santa Ana winds, which tend to blow in from the desert in the fall months.
Firefighters are still racing to keep flames from charring people's homes, but as the LA Fire Department's Eric Scott pointed out on Twitter, some houses are better protected than others, since green vegetation can help keep flames back.
Wildfire season in California used to run from late summer through the fall. But as the planet heats up, higher-than-average temperatures and drought conditions are becoming more common. Meanwhile, developers continue to race to build homes in places that are naturally prone to wildland fires.
"Whether it is to allow a rock star to build on a ridgeline in Malibu or a manufactured-home community that nestles into the foothills, the decision is the same and the consequences are the same," Char Miller, director of environmental analysis at Pomona College, told the LA Times.
Michelle Mark, Bryan Logan, and David Choi contributed reporting.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.