Ferocious flames in southern California neared coastal homes along the famed Pacific Coast Highway in the Malibu area. Footage of the wind-driven wildfire was taken by a crew on board a Los Angeles County Fire Department Firehawk helicoper.
MALIBU, Calif. – At least 25 people have died in massive wildfires in California, authorities reported late Saturday.
In Northern California, 23 people have been reported dead in the Camp Fire, making this the second deadliest fire in California history. Only the Oakland Hills Fire killed more people – 25 in 1991.
In Southern California, officials confirmed that two people have died in the Woolsey Fire near Malibu.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea warned of the possibility more fatalities will be discovered in the Camp Fire. He said family members of people reported missing can submit DNA samples so authorities can cross-check the samples should they find more remains.
Honea said Saturday night that 14 more bodies were recovered from the Camp Fire. On Friday authorities announced they had found nine bodies in Paradise, a town of 27,000 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Some of the victims died inside their cars as they were attempting to flee the sudden approach of the flames.
The fire, which has burned at least 164 square miles and is 65 percent contained, has destroyed 6,453 homes and a total 6,713 structures. It is the most destructive fire in state history.
The dense smoke Saturday limited the use of aircraft fighting the Camp Fire, officials said.
Honea cautioned people to continue to remain vigilant.
“We have another one to two days of strong winds with the potential to create explosive fire behavior similar to the conditions that occurred Thursday (the day the fire started),” Honea said.
Cal Fire officials said the Woolsey Fire has burned 130 square miles and destroyed 177 structures. The fire was 5 percent contained as of Saturday night
A brief respite in the high winds Saturday gave firefighters a chance to control the edges of the blazes and to swap crews, replacing firefighters who had worked for two days without rest, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby.
But with the winds expected to reach 40 mph gusts on Sunday, it’s likely more homes would be lost, Osby warned. Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said the devastating Santa Ana winds could last through Tuesday.
“Don’t be lulled by a false sense of security,” said Lorenzen in a press conference Saturday evening. “Right now mother nature has given us a short reprieve. The winds are not blowing. But we know tomorrow Mother Nature is going to turn her fan back on.”
Osby said Saturday that his firefighters were reporting “conditions they have never seen in their lives.” He said that aircraft dropped large amounts of fire retardant on fire zones to help prevent further spread.
“We did lose a lot of homes,” he said. “But we saved thousands of homes.”
He said firefighters’ objectives for Saturday included perimeter control along the 101 freeway, and in Bell Canyon and Malibu Canyon. He said that crew would be hand-digging containment lines in Malibu and Topanga Canyon overnight.
Benedict told reporters that he had 200 officers on patrol for “looting suppression.” He warned that his department would have “zero tolerance” for stealing.
Two people have been arrested so far on suspicion of looting, according to Sgt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
“If you come here with the intent of taking advantage of this situation, we will arrest you and you will go to jail,” Buschow said.
At Pepperdine University in Malibu, classes were canceled Saturday after a tense Friday evening. When the all-clear order was given around 9 a.m. Saturday, many students drove away from the area, many equipped with face masks.
Despite the evacuation order for Malibu, Hassen Masri, who lives in the Malibu Country Estates neighborhood that abuts the university, stayed in his house Friday night and watched the hills rage with fire around him.
Around midnight, he saw nearly 20 trucks pull onto the Pepperdine University campus once officials learned the students wouldn’t be evacuating.
“It was a hairy experience; it was bad, it was really bad,” Masri said. “When the fire came over the ridge around midnight, I thought I should leave, but I didn’t. Maybe it was crazy that the university didn’t remove the students, but I am thankful for the extra resources that brought. I felt protected by those extra trucks.”
The exotic animals at Ronnie Semler’s Saddlerock Ranch, including zebras and water buffalo, were roaming their corrals Saturday even though a structure that appeared to be a barn, several vehicles and fences burned. The Malibu ranch’s biggest attraction, Stanley the giraffe, appeared happy and curious. Except for one worker, the ranch appeared empty.
In Paris, President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties but later threatened on Twitter to withhold federal payments to California, claiming its forest management is “so poor.”
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests,” he wrote. “Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
Later Saturday, Trump tweeted again, urging residents to listen to evacuation orders from state and local officials.
“More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres. Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all, ” Trump tweeted.
Saturday evening local politicians called on Trump to designate the wildfires as a “major disaster” which would increase the amount of federal aid in the area.
“We need that major disaster declaration, so we can have all the tools necessary to ensure so residents can recover,” said Linda Park, Ventura County Supervisor.
Hardest hit was Paradise, a town of 27,000 in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The town is a popular retirement community, raising concerns of elderly and immobile residents who have been reported missing.
On Friday, dozens of burned-out cars and SUVs lined the main road out of Paradise known simply as Skyway, stripped down to their bare metal by flames that melted aluminum engine blocks, vaporized plastic door handles and exploded their windows.
In the afternoon, a small army of firefighters and emergency workers picked their way through the debris, small fires burning in trees and in the ruins of houses. Power lines littered the streets, and heavy smoke blocked out the sun.
Barbara Ramsey, 75, saw her home catch fire. She escaped Paradise, driving through flames.
“I screamed at my daughter, my little grandson. I said, ‘We got to get out now!” she said. “So many people didn’t get out –they were burned in their cars.”
Officials ordered the evacuation of the entire city of Malibu, which stretches 21 miles along the coastline and includes the homes of such celebrities as Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson and Cher.
About 20 miles north, in the smoke-choked community of Calabasas, local residents and sooty firefighters gathered at the Starbucks inside the Albertsons supermarket in what appeared to be the only open business inside the evacuation area.
There was no outside electricity, only power from a backup generator. Residents, many wearing masks for protection against the smoke, shared videos that they taken on their smart phones showing flames engulfing their backyards.
Paul Bancroft said he was not about to lose his house, which took him three years to build, in a nearby area known as Old Agoura.
The fire burned “right up to the fence (and) started burning in my bushes.” he said. He managed to douse it with a garden hose.
“I’ve built my home and I didn’t want to leave,” Bancroft said.
Woodyard reported from Malibu, Hughes from Paradise, California.
Contributing: Nicole Hayden, of the Desert Sun; The Associated Press
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