More than 30 Dead in California Fires

12 November, 2018

California officials said at least 31 people have died as fires continue to burn at both ends of the state. Another 228 people are still missing while rescue teams increase their search efforts for bodies and missing people.

In Northern California, the fire started last Thursday in Paradise, a town of 27,000 that was largely destroyed last week. In the south, firefighters fought the fire that burned through homes of Hollywood actors in Malibu and mobile homes in nearby mountains.

Around the state, 150,000 people are forced from their homes as the fires have burned 1,040 square kilometers. More than 8,000 firefighting teams are battling the fires with out-of-state teams continuing to arrive. Fire officials warned strong winds and extremely-dry conditions threaten more areas through the rest of the week.

Yuba and Butte County Sheriff deputies retrieve remains of a deceased victim from a home during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff deputies retrieve remains of a deceased victim from a home during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS

Who is to blame?

California Governor Jerry Brown called it a "tragedy." He has declared a state of emergency and said California is requesting aid from President Donald Trump's administration.

United States President Donald Trump blamed "poor" forest management for the fires.

Brown agreed that federal and state governments must do more forest management. But he said climate change is the greater cause of the problem.

He added, "And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we're now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years."

Last year, California officially saw the end of a five-year rain shortage. But much of the northern two-thirds of the state is still unusually dry.

Lack of rain and warmer weather have been linked to climate change. And the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in the state.

Battling fires

Actor Gerard Butler said on Instagram that his Malibu home near Los Angeles was "half-gone." He added that he was "inspired as ever by the courage, spirit and sacrifice of firefighters."

The fires also surrounded Thousand Oaks. That is the Southern California city still mourning over the deaths of 12 people in a mass shooting on Wednesday night.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby noted on Sunday there were several risky areas that had not yet burned as firefighters used special equipment and chemicals to battle the fires in wind speeds of up to 64 kilometers per hour. Two people were killed and the fire had destroyed nearly 180 structures.

At sunset, Osby said there had been huge successes despite a very difficult day.

In Northern California, more than 6,700 buildings have been destroyed. The 29 dead matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 fire in Los Angeles.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said officials worked with teams of scientists to identify human remains. In some cases, investigators were able to recover only bones and pieces of bone.

Tim Aboudara is with the International Association of Fire Fighters. He said at least 36 firefighters lost their own homes, most in the Paradise area. He said, "Anytime you're a firefighter and your town burns down, there's a lot of feelings and a lot of guilt and a lot of concern about both what happened and what the future looks like."

Others continued the search for friends or relatives, calling relief centers, hospitals, and the police.

Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy. The 75-year-old woman's house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.

As Bechtold drove through the smoke to yet another shelter, he told the Associated Press, "I'm also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother's somewhere and you don't know where she's at. You don't know if she's safe."

Firefighters have made progress against the fire in Northern California. In the south, officials are preparing for possibly more fires farther in from the coast.

California Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said they are preparing for "the next set of fires" as winds are expected to increase. He warned that fire conditions will continue until the state sees rain.

"We are in this for the long haul," Pimlott said.

I'm ­Dorothy Gundy.

Gillian Flaccus and Don Thompson reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. How do you think countries might be able to prevent tragedies like this? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

tragedyn. a very bad event that causes great sadness and often involves someone's death

management n. the act or process of deciding how to use something

contributingv. helping to cause something to happen

inspire(d) – v. to cause someone to have a feeling or emotion

couragen. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

sheltern. a place that provides food and protection for people or animals that need assistance

long hauln. a long period of time