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42 Dead in California's Camp Fire, Deadliest in State History

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42 Dead in California's Camp Fire, Deadliest in State History
California fires seen from NASA's Terra satellite. Image taken Nov. 9, 2018. NASA

The Camp Fire in Northern California is not only the most destructive in state's modern history, it's also the deadliest.

The death toll climbed to 42 as of Monday, according to Cal Fire.


Sadly, the total number of deaths could grow. Butte County sheriff Kory L. Honea said more 228 people remain missing in the area, Reuters reported.

"My sincere hope is that I don't have to come here each night and report a higher and higher number," Honea said at a press conference Monday night.

The inferno has burned 117,000 acres of land, destroyed 6,453 residences, 260 commercial buildings and is only 30 percent contained. Three firefighters have been injured.

The Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise on Thursday, surpasses the death toll of the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles that killed 29 people.

"Forecasted low relative humidity and dry fuel moistures combined with steep rugged terrain will continue to impede control operations," Cal Fire said about the Camp Fire on Monday.

California has been terrorized by a string of devastating wildfires. Last year's Tubbs Fire, which burned parts of Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties, killed 22 people (the third deadliest in the state) and burned 5,636 structures (the second highest number of structures), the San Francisco Chronicle tallied.

The ongoing wildfires in both Northern and Southern California have been whipped by strong winds, years of prolonged drought that have dried vegetation, and climate change, experts have said.

Nearly 9,000 firefighters are battling the fires throughout the state, Reuters reported.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California's Ventura County has killed two people, burned 93,662 acres and is 30 percent contained, Cal Fire reported Monday evening.

President Trump—who threatened to withdraw federal funding and criticized California officials for "gross mismanagement" of forests in an ill-informed and widely criticized tweet—has approved a disaster declaration in the state. This will unlock federal funding and other resources.

"I just approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California," the president tweeted Monday. "Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected."

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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