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California’s Worst-Ever Wildfire Kills 23, Claims 7,000 Structures

Andrea Booher/Wikimedia Commons

California is dealing with the onslaught of three ferocious November wildfires, with satellite images showing dramatic growth in the Camp, Woolsey, and Hill Fires over the last couple of days.

“The wildfires scorching California in the past few days have been vast, bringing their destruction and lethality to numerous communities across large swaths of the state,” the Washington Post reports. “The Camp Fire, in the Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento, is now the most destructive individual wildfire in California’s history. As of Saturday, it already had destroyed nearly 7,000 structures in and around the mountain town of Paradise and has been blamed for 23 of the 25 overall deaths, though more could come.”

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With more than 100 people missing and unaccounted for, the fire may be on track to become the deadliest [2] in state history.

In Paradise, a town of 27,000 located about 300 kilometres northeast of San Francisco, the flames wiped out a couple of thousand buildings, CBC reports [3]. “Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed,” Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean said late Thursday. “It’s that kind of devastation.”

“This event was the worst-case scenario,” agreed Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “It’s the event that we have feared for a long time.”

Air quality in San Francisco was worse than Beijing’s [4], and Wildfire Today is reporting [5] Red Flag Warnings for much of the state, with the U.S. National Weather Service “predicting strong winds and low humidities that could spread existing wildfires and force new ignitions to grow quickly.”

In the southern part of the state, “about 200,000 people were displaced by the Woolsey Fire, which began midafternoon Thursday near Simi Valley, even as fire departments were responding to a second wildfire, called the Hill Fire, just west of Thousand Oaks,” the Post recounts. “The Woolsey Fire proved to be explosive, expanding within 24 hours to some 35,000 acres. It raced from the Conejo Valley to the Pacific Ocean, across Highway 101 and the Santa Monica mountains, at speeds that impressed veteran fire officials.”

“It’s spreading quicker than it used to,” said Mark Lorenzen, chief of the Ventura County Fire Department. Not that firefighters were surprised.

“They knew the wind was coming, and when there is strong wind here, there is fire, reliably,” the Post notes. But “everyone had expected a lull in the wind Friday afternoon, and it didn’t materialize,” the paper adds, citing Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson. Instead, “the gusts stayed dangerous.”

Never one to avoid throwing gasoline on a burning flame, Donald Trump weighed in Saturday morning with a tweet that accused California of mismanagement. “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he wrote. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

“The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed, and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” replied California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice.

Trump’s assertion “that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong,” Rice added. “Nearly 60% of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”