The flames from California’s deadliest wildfire are beginning to retreat into forested, unpopulated areas of the state, but the death toll is still rising.
Eight victims of the Camp Fire were found Friday, bringing the total number of deaths from the fire in Northern California to 71. On Saturday, authorities said they found five more bodies.
There now nearly 1,300 people still missing, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
President Donald Trump also visited the wreckage in Paradise, California, on Saturday, calling the area “total devastation.”
“We’re going to have to work quickly,” he said. “Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one.”
The fire continues to rage across Butte County, less than 100 miles north of Sacramento, though it is 55% contained as of Saturday night. So far, it has scorched over 220 square miles of land, an area nearly the size of Chicago.
The other dangerous wildfire raging in California, the Woolsey Fire, has burned more than 150 square miles in the hills around Los Angeles. Residents of Malibu and other LA suburbs whose houses were in the path of the fire are beginning to return home to charred shells as firefighters strengthen their hold on the flames.
Two people were killed in the Woolsey Fire on November 9, and a third body was found in a burned home in Agoura Hills on Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll from both fires to 74.
Already this year, 7,778 fires have burned across California, fueled by hot, dry conditions and aggressive winds. The causes of both the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire are still under investigation, but sparking power lines may have played a role in the Camp Fire.
The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history
The Camp Fire burned about 200 square miles in Northern California from Thursday, November 8, to Tuesday, November 13. Business Insider/Cal Fire
That speed made successful evacuations nearly impossible. At least six people burned to death in their cars as they tried to escape, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.
“The fire was so close I could feel it in my car through rolled-up windows,” Rita Miller, who fled Paradise with her mother, told The Associated Press.
Other residents ran from the fire on foot, The Sacramento Bee reported.
More than 9,840 homes and 330 businesses have been destroyed so far, along with 2,076 other buildings, making the Camp Fire the most destructive wildfire in California’s history in terms of structures lost.
Coroner search teams are searching for victims in Paradise. More than 450 people have been assigned to search for human remains in the debris, the AP reported. Abandoned cars in driveways can be a sign that residents might not have escaped in time.
Sheriff’s deputies recover the bodies of multiple Camp Fire victims on Wednesday in Paradise. AP Photo/Noah Berger
Sifting through the ashes, the teams sometimes recover only a few remains of a victim to put in a body bag.
“The long bag looks almost empty as it’s carefully carried out of the ruins and placed in a black hearse,” the AP’s Gillian Flaccus reported from Paradise.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county was working with anthropologists from California State University at Chico to help identify bone fragments among ash in the area.
Fortunately, winds are settling, humidity is rising, and there’s a chance of rain in the forecast for next week. Those factors may give firefighters a boost, but Cal Fire doesn’t expect the Camp Fire to be extinguished until the end of November.
You can also register yourself as safe or search for loved ones who are missing using the Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” list online.
A satellite view of Paradise on November 8.NASA Earth Observatory
Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Butte County the day the fire broke out and sent a letter to President Donald Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for federal assistance.
Trump approved some federal assistance for the California fires on November 9 but then said on Twitter that there may be “no more Fed payments” unless California’s forests are better managed. (The federal government oversees more than 40% of California’s land.)
Trump said in a tweet on Monday that he approved an “expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration,” which allows people whose homes or workplaces were hit by the Woolsey or Camp Fires to apply for federal assistance.
“Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on,” Trump said. “I am with you all the way.”
FEMA said in a release that federal disaster assistance “can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.”
Trump echoed his blame on forest mismanagement hours before he was set to visit California on Saturday and told reporters before he departed the White House that he would be “talking about forest management” with Newsom and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Some people in San Francisco have donned masks to protect their lungs. Katie Canales/Business Insider
Smoke from the Camp Fire has blanketed wide swaths of Northern California in a gray haze. The Environmental Protection Agency described the air throughout much of the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 150 miles from the flames, as “very unhealthy” to breathe.
The San Francisco Air Quality Index, which measures the number of dangerously small pollutants in the air, was worse than Beijing or New Delhi on Friday. Classes were canceled in San Francisco’s public schools, as administrators worried about kids’ safety outside.
Federal air monitors have suggested limiting time outside and avoiding outdoor exercise. The EPA recommends that older adults, children, teens, and people with heart and lung conditions who are more sensitive to bad air avoid all physical activity outdoors.
The Woolsey fire has burned nearly 100,000 acres on the outskirts of LA
The Woolsey Fire burned more than 150 square miles around Los Angeles from Thursday, November 8, to Tuesday, November 13. Business Insider/Cal Fire
The Woolsey Fire, fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds, has destroyed more than 600 structures, mostly homes.
Over the past couple of days, firefighters have strengthened their hold on the flames — the fire was 82% contained on Saturday and growing at a slower pace than it did over the weekend.
Red-flag warnings that were in effect for Southern California through Wednesday evening have expired, giving firefighters a boost as the winds die down.
Firefighters battling a blaze at the Salvation Army Camp in Malibu, California. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Three people have died in the Woolsey Fire. Two burned bodies were found in a car in Malibu near Mulholland Highway, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said, while a third victim was discovered in the wreckage of a home in Agoura Hills.
At its peak, the fire forced over 275,000 people from their homes. Carol Napoli, who lives at the Vallecito mobile-home park for seniors in Newbury Park, told the AP that the flames approached the park so fast that her mother didn’t have time to grab her oxygen tank before they bolted in a car.
“We drove through flames to get out,” Napoli said, adding: “My girlfriend was driving. She said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ … Her son said, ‘Mom you have to — you have to drive through the flames.'”
The fire has burned more than 98,000 acres of land, threatening mobile homes and mansions alike. Celebrities including Gerard Butler, Miley Cyrus, and Neil Young have lost their houses.
A firefighter battles the Woolsey Fire in Malibu on November 9. AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
More than 80% of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the country’s largest urban national park, has burned, according to the Los Angeles Times. Flames and smoke sent bobcats and mountain lions in the area scampering.
The blaze also destroyed the storied filming location of Paramount Ranch, where the shows “Westworld” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” were shot.
Cal Fire expects the Woolsey Fire to be extinguished by Sunday, and residents are starting to stream back into sections of Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and northern Topanga.
You can view current fire perimeters, evacuation updates, and shelter and donation information on the Ventura County Emergency Information site, the Ventura County Recovers site, and LA County’s Woolsey Fire site.
A helicopter dropping flame retardant on the Woolsey Fire. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Another smaller fire in Southern California, the Hill Fire, charred over 4,500 acres but was extinguished on Friday.
The Woolsey and Hill Fires threatened the town of Thousand Oaks, where residents were already reeling from a mass shooting that left 12 people dead last week. Three-quarters of Thousand Oaks residents were under evacuation orders over the weekend, according to the AP.
A resident named Cynthia Ball told the AP it was “like ‘welcome to hell.'”
The LA County website says: “If you are affected by the Woolsey or Hill fires, the Thousand Oaks mass shooting, or both, you can call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746 for emotional support and resources.”
A destroyed house in Thousand Oaks, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Wildfires are no longer limited to one season
The flames in Southern California have been fueled by hot, dry conditions and spread by Santa Ana winds, which tend to blow in from the desert in the fall months.
Firefighters are still racing to keep flames from charring people’s homes, but as the LA Fire Department’s Erik Scott pointed out on Twitter, some houses are better protected than others, since green vegetation can help keep back flames.
A Butte County sheriff’s deputy makes a note while recovering the body of a Camp Fire victim on Wednesday in Paradise. AP Photo/Noah Berger
Wildfire season in California technically runs from late summer through the fall. But as the planet heats up, higher-than-average temperatures and drought conditions are becoming more common. Meanwhile, developers continue to build homes in places that are naturally prone to wildfires.
“Whether it is to allow a rock star to build on a ridgeline in Malibu or a manufactured-home community that nestles into the foothills, the decision is the same and the consequences are the same,” Char Miller, the director of environmental analysis at Pomona College, told the Times.
Michelle Mark, Bryan Logan, and David Choi contributed reporting.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.