Hurricane-force gusts will fuel one California fire while another blaze leaves 42 people dead

Posted at 8:34 AM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-13 10:34:25-05

By Holly Yan, Amanda Watts and Susannah Cullinane, CNN

As one wildfire keeps inflicting more tragedy in Northern California, millions of people in Southern California will face treacherous fire conditions Tuesday.

About 21 million people are under red flag warnings in Southern California, including in Los Angeles and San Diego, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

The area has been ravaged by the Woolsey Fire, which has charred more than 93,000 acres and destroyed 435 structures. But on Tuesday, hurricane-force gusts — meaning 74 mph or greater — will hit canyons and ridgetops, fueling an already catastrophic blaze, Hennen said.

“Single-digit humidity along with very dry vegetation will lead to the potential of explosive fire growth,” he said.

So far, two people have died from the Woolsey Fire — both in Malibu.

But the tragedy is even worse in Northern California, where the Camp Fire has left 42 people dead. It’s now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s recorded history.

But there’s a shred of good news in Butte County, which has been largely annihilated by the Camp Fire. Winds are dying down Tuesday, giving exhausted firefighters — including some who lost their own homes — a better chance of getting a grip on the blaze.

‘If you’re going to die, die fighting’

While the Camp Fire is still raging out of control, some residents are returning to what’s left of their gutted homes.

Justin Bartek lost his childhood home in Paradise, where his father still lived. His sister’s house as burned down as well.

Bartek said he’s especially concerned about his father, who’s retired.

“His world is flipped over,” Bartek said Tuesday. “My mother’s ashes were left in the home. That’s tough to deal with as well.”

Paradise resident Nichole Jolly said she thought her life was over when flames surrounded her car, filling it with smoke. Then, she called her husband, who urged her to run, she said.

“If you’re going to die, die fighting,” she said, tearfully recalling his words.

Outside the vehicle, ash and hot embers stung her eyes and obscured her vision, she said. She felt around until she reached a fire engine that was hot to the touch. Firefighters pulled her inside, but they, too, were trapped, she said — until a bulldozer came through and cleared a path to safety.

Latest developments by the numbers

• Camp Fire: More than 52,000 people have been evacuated and 1,385 are in shelters due to the Camp Fire. It has scorched more than 117,000 acres of Northern California, and destroyed more than 7,000 structures, including 6,453 single-family residences. As of Monday night, it was about 30% contained.

• Woolsey Fire: In Southern California, 57,000 structures are threatened by the Woolsey Fire. As of Monday, it was about 30% contained.

• Hill Fire: Another Southern California fire, the Hill Fire has burned 4,531 acres and was 85% contained as of Monday night.

Causes of fires still being investigated

California state regulators are investigating two utility companies that reported incidents close in time and location to the start of the Camp and Woolsey fires.

Both utilities say they are cooperating with state investigators.

Almost 15 minutes before the Camp Fire began near Pulga, PG&E saidit experienced a transmission line outage about 1 mile northeast of the town.

In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire began Thursday afternoon in Ventura County, SoCal Edison reported that a circuit relayed out of the Chatsworth Substation about two minutes before the blaze broke out. The incident location in the report appears to be the same as CalFire’s location for the fire’s origin. But it’s not clear how close they actually are to each other.

SoCal Edison said “at this point we have no indication from fire agency personnel that SCE utility facilities may have been involved in the start of the fire.”

‘It is not a safe environment whatsoever’

So far, 42 bodies have been recovered from homes and vehicles in or near Paradise.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office identified three of the victims as Ernest Foss, 65, from Paradise; Jesus Fernandez, 48, from Concow; and Carl Wiley, 77, from Magalia.

In Southern California, officials said two deaths in Malibu were related to the Woolsey Fire, bringing the statewide death toll to 44.

Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory L. Honea said his office is bringing in additional resources to expedite the identification and processing of human remains, including 13 coroner search recovery teams, 150 search and rescue personnel, cadaver dogs, two portable temporary morgue units, and a rapid DNA system.

California Highway Patrol Chief Brent Newman asked for the public’s patience as teams clear affected areas. As part of those efforts, CHP teams removed 60 abandoned cars and set up barriers around dangerous areas. He urged people trying to cross them so they can reach their homes to be patient.

“It is not a safe environment whatsoever,” he said.

Residents displaced with no end in sight

More than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes statewide. The majority of those residents are in Los Angeles County, where 170,000 were evacuated.

The evacuees included celebrities who lost their homesin Malibu as well as first responders who are still working despite losing their own homes.

More than 8,000 firefighters are battling wildfires across California, including many from out of state.

Cal Fire, the state’s fire protection agency, tweeted a map showing all the states where firefighters are coming from — including Alaska, Indiana and Georgia.

“CAL Fire wants to recognize the many out of state partners that have joined in battling these wildfires,” the agency said.