The wind-driven Camp Fire in Butte County has already laid claim to be among the state’s 20-most deadly blazes, killing at least five victims on Thursday afternoon, all of them found burned in their cars.
The five unidentified victims were found along a dead-end street on the southeast edge of town, Edgewood Lane, where evacuee traffic caused logjams and left some people fleeing their vehicles and others waiting it out.
Butte County sheriff’s officials indicated in a press release that the victims had been burned.
“The preliminary investigation revealed that the victims were located in vehicles that were overcome by the Camp Fire,” the sheriff said in a statement. “Due to the burn injuries, identification could not be immediately made.“
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The agency said a team is out now searching for further victims. The initial five reported deaths puts the Camp Fire among the 20 deadliest fires in California modern history, according to Cal Fire. The worst was the Griffith Fire in Los Angeles in 1933, when 29 died.
The Camp Fire began near the town of Paradise on Thursday morning and by afternoon had destroyed about 2,000 structures in the town, leaving many residents fleeing on foot as the fire burned uncontrolled.
The fire has since burned 70,000 acres, including a swath through the rural hamlet of Paradise, and advanced toward Chico, but has not breached that city’s borders.
OES Director Mark Ghilarducci said in Friday’s press briefing that state agencies are still working toward assessments of damage and losses.
“The magnitude of the destruction we’re seeing is really unbelievable and heartbreaking,” Ghilarducci said. “We know there have been fatalities,” while exact numbers are still being determined by local law enforcement agencies, he said.
A pair of intense wildfires in Ventura County have also led to the evacuation of 105,000 people in Southern California, leading acting Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency there while Gov. Jerry Brown is out of the state, Ghilarducci said.
The Hill and Woolsey fires in Ventura County have raged since Thursday afternoon, burning tens of thousands of acres combined; the latter blaze jumped Highway 101 and posed an “imminent threat” to Malibu, leading to mandatory evacuation of the entire beachfront city, Los Angeles County Fire Department said on Twitter.
Friday’s declaration is the second in as many days, as Newsom declared an emergency for the Butte County fire Thursday. Newsom has also requested presidential declaration of emergency.
The Camp Fire decimated most of Paradise, a town of about 27,000 people 90 miles north of Sacramento near Chico, according to Cal Fire’s 10 a.m. Friday incident update. Thousands evacuated, many abandoned their vehicles and fleeing on foot as flames surrounded major roadways in the area.
Ghilarducci added that “winds will die down” in the next 24 to 48 hours in California, but are forecast to pick up again Sunday.
“We are literally in a statewide Red Flag Warning,” Ghilarducci said.
Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said a “very significant, dangerous weather pattern” would continue through the end of the weekend. Pimlott said 40 mph wind picked up at the outset of the Camp Fire early Thursday.
“From the second it started, it was off to the races,” Pimlott said.
Cal Fire has used aircraft minimally because high winds diminish their effectiveness in dropping retardant, Pimlott explained during Friday morning’s press conference.
Pimlott said six major fires are currently burning in California, with three (Camp, Woolsey and Hill) designated “critical.”
Active investigations are underway on all three fires, “particularly the Camp Fire,” Pimlott said.
Cal Fire had not reported any firefighter fatalities related to containment efforts on the Camp Fire, nor the two burning in Ventura County, as of 10 a.m. Friday. Two firefighters were reported injured Thursday in the Camp Fire.