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'Only Bones and Fragments': California Wildfire Toll at 25 as Grim Searches Go On
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=48894"><span class="small">Gabrielle Canon, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Sunday, 11 November 2018 09:26

Canon writes: "In northern California, sheriff's investigators have begun the agonizing task of scouring the wreckage of the most destructive fire in state records, in search of remains of the dead. By Saturday, the death toll in and around the destroyed town of Paradise had reached 23, but it seemed likely to climb."

Firefighters work a hotspot caused by the Woosley fire in Malibu, California, on Saturday. (photo: Mike Nelson/EPA)
Firefighters work a hotspot caused by the Woosley fire in Malibu, California, on Saturday. (photo: Mike Nelson/EPA)


'Only Bones and Fragments': California Wildfire Toll at 25 as Grim Searches Go On

By Gabrielle Canon, Guardian UK

11 November 18


Rescuers begin the task of scouring the wreckage of the most destructive fire in state records, in search of remains of the dead

n northern California, sheriff’s investigators have begun the agonizing task of scouring the wreckage of the most destructive fire in state records, in search of remains of the dead. By Saturday, the death toll in and around the destroyed town of Paradise had reached 23, but it seemed likely to climb.

Two more people were confirmed to have died in the south of the state, around Los Angeles in the Woolsey fire, which has ravaged vast areas. It was only 5% contained on Saturday night and a red flag warning was put into effect for Sunday morning through Tuesday, as officials expected dry winds to worsen considerably.

A total of 83,275 acres had burned, but officials still had no updates on the number of structures destroyed.

In the north, with the fire still raging around Paradise, Butte county sheriff Kory Honea said the county was bringing in a fifth search and recovery team. An anthropology team from California State University, Chico was assisting, because in some cases “the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments”.

“This weighs heavy on all of us,” Honea said. “Myself and especially those staff members who are out there doing what is important work but certainly difficult work.”

The victims had not been identified, but the department had a roster of 110 people believed missing. Officials hoped many of the elderly on the list were elsewhere without a way to contact loved ones. Honea said the agency was bringing in a mobile DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in the identification process.

The death toll made the fire the third-deadliest on record in the state, another statistic for a blaze now logged at 164 sq miles that has cost at least $8.1m to fight so far, said Steve Kaufmann, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Entire neighborhoods were leveled, destroying more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes. The Paradise business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the fury that largely incinerated the foothill town.

More firefighters were headed to the area, with wind gusts of up to 50mph expected through Monday, raising the risk of conditions similar to those when the fire started on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

In southern California, fires tore through Malibu mansions and working-class suburban homes. State officials put the number of people forced from their homes statewide at more than 200,000. Evacuations included the city of Malibu, home to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Back in Paradise, the air clogged with smoke, residents who defied an evacuation order for all of Paradise, a town of 27,000 founded in the 1800s, donned masks as they surveyed ravaged neighborhoods. Some cried when they saw nothing was left.

Jan MacGregor, 81, got back to his small two-bedroom home with the help of his firefighter grandson. He found it leveled, a large metal safe and pipe work from his septic system the only recognizable traces. The safe was punctured with bullet holes from guns that went off in the scorching heat.

He has lived in Paradise for nearly 80 years, moving there in 1939 when he said the town had just 3,000 people and was nicknamed Poverty Ridge. The fire was not a complete surprise, he said.

“We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years,” he said. “We’ve had ‘em come right up to the city limits, oh yeah, but nothing like this.”

MacGregor said he probably would not rebuild: “I have nothing here to go back to.”

Homes and other buildings were still burning and fire crews were trying to extinguish those blazes, said Scott McLean, a captain with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests have led to more destructive wildfire seasons that have been starting earlier and lasting longer.

California emerged from a five-year drought last year but has had a very dry 2018. Much of the northern two-thirds of the state, including where the fire is burning, is abnormally dry, according to a US government analysis.

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+2 # futhark 2018-11-11 11:52
Paradise is represented in Congress by Republican Doug LaMalfa, who was just re-elected with 56.8% of the vote. LaMalfa is a skeptic on the issue of human caused climate change.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/31/california-wildfire-climate-change-carr-fire

My home in Lake County having been threatened but spared by the August 2018 Ranch Fire, I would expect voters in his district to consider this issue of primary importance before casting their votes in the next election. Extreme droughts and crazy wind patterns that spread wildfires were not common when I moved here 40 years ago. Something has changed and no one will be the better for ignoring or denying the problem.