California wildfires worst in state’s history

Members of the Red Cross comfort survivors. (Flickr)

By Muhammad Siddiqui
Staff Writer

A wildfire know as Camp Fire in northern California has claimed at least 87 lives and burned more than 150,000 acres of land, as of Nov. 23, making it the most destructive wildfire to ever affect the state, according to ABC News.

The number of missing people was at one point above 1,000, but it fell once survivors were able to contact family members or were seen active on social media by authorities, according to The New York Times.

Families have been scattered throughout California, which complicates search efforts for survivors. Lisa Vasquez of Paradise, California, a town almost completely destroyed by the fire, told TIME that limited access to phones and the internet meant that many people lost access to the ways they usually keep in touch.

Some survivors had been living in makeshift camps in a Walmart parking lot until they were instructed to move to nearby shelters, according to CBS News.

For authorities, the most painstaking task will be combing through the rubble of the nearly 13,000 destroyed homes, according to The New York Times. This includes searching for the remains of those who could not get out in time.

The sheriff heading the search, Kory L. Honea, told The New York Times that most of the remains have been reduced to bone fragments.

As a result, TIME reported that authorities have recruited a team of archaeologists from California State University Chico, as well as a team of 24 cadaver dogs to help with the search.

Rain is expected soon in California, which will assist the firefighters’ efforts. However, rain could also complicate the search for remains and may trigger mudslides, ash flows, and flooding, according to CBS.

While the worst fires continue in northern California, the state has had to deal with another wildfire simultaneously in the south, dubbed the Woolsey Fire, which killed two people. This fire is believed to have started at roughly the same time as Camp Fire, according to CNN.

Woolsey Fire, as of Nov. 21, is 98 percent contained, according to The New York Post. However, in its early stages the Woolsey fire torched Malibu, destroying the homes of celebrities Gerard Butler, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, and burned enough vegetation that NASA could spot the aftermath via satellite.

The causes of all the fires are still unknown, according to CNN.

One utility company, PG&E, reportedly experienced a transmission line outage shortly before Camp Fire started, in an area only one mile northeast of the where of the fire is believed to have originated. Similarly, SoCal Edison reported circuit problems at a substation close to a possible source of Woosley Fire, only two minutes before the fire began. Investigations are ongoing, according to CNN.

California Gov. Jerry Brown estimates the cost of damages resulting from the flames to be in the tens of billions, according to CBS. The governor also thanked President Donald Trump for his pledges of aid to the state, despite his earlier comments in which he threatened to withhold federal payments due to poor forest management.

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