Camp Fire now most destructive wildfire in California history; 9 dead
PARADISE, Calif. (KTVU) - The Butte County Sheriff's Coroner confirmed nine fatalities stemming from the 90,000 acre Camp Fire that began early Thursday morning just east of the town of Paradise, California.
The sheriff says they have taken 35 reports of missing people.
Speaking at a news conference with cooperating agencies, officials addressed the public from Silver County Fairgrounds Friday evening.
In the first official report of fatalities, the Butte County Sheriff tweeted on Friday that investigators had found five dead bodies. All of the people were found dead in their cars, which were "overcome by the Camp Fire," the sheriff said.
Butte County Sheriff Korey Honea said one of the additional deaths was said to be near those vehicles, another was inside a residence and at least three were said to be outside of residences. No further details were given surrounding the circumstances of those deaths.
The number of evacuations remains at 52,000 people so far, but the number of total structures destroyed has risen to 6,713.
6,453 of those structures were residences, 260 were commercial buildings.
Officials said at least three firefighters have been injured on the job and that 3,223 firefighters are working this fire. As many as 1,385 people are in shelters.
There was no estimated time to contain the fire, but officials said they would hold a daily news conference from the same location and time if conditions permit, until the fire is out.
A meteorologist speaking at the news conference said that dry conditions are expected to continue and that the lack of rain was only making things worse.
The sheriff said there were two reported calls of looting, but no arrests and no actual sightings of looting. He characterized the act as "despicable" and threatened to prosecute anyone caught looting to the full extent of the law.
The town of Paradise, Calif. in the Sierra Nevada foothills just north of Sacramento, best known for its deep canyons, the Feather River and a legendary story about a 19th century saloon, was almost entirely engulfed in flames, nearly all the buildings and homes destroyed.
By Friday morning, a day after the fire broke out along Pulga Road at Camp Creek Road in Butte County, firefighters said about 80 percent of the town, population 26,000, was lost.
"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it's that kind of devastation," Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean told KTVU on Friday. "The whole town is gone. A lot of people have to rebuild."
The fire remains at 5 percent contained.
VIDEO: Escaping the Camp Fire in Butte County
In a heartbreaking video, Paradise resident Jackie Blome posted an emotional tour on Facebook of her town.
"F--ing Paradise is gone," she said. "I mean, my God. The fire took everything."
Blome drove through the town with a man named Fred, crying, pointing out Sam's Liquor, Safeway, McDonald's, the church, the tire shop, the car wash, apartments, her doctor's office, the bowling alley, a hotel, the veterinarian -- all of which had gone up in flames.
VIDEO: Dad keeps toddler calm, sings during Camp Fire escape
Even firefighters lost their homes.
"It's hard," Cal Fire Butte County Capt. John Gaddi said. "A lot of our own members have lost their houses. So you take it personally and we haven't really had time to reflect. We're just trying to take care of people. That's that's what we do."
On Thursday, acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire-stricken area in Northern California and requested a presidential disaster declaration, saying that dangerous weather conditions were expected to last several days.
And on Friday, Newsom also declared a state of emergency for the raging fires also ravaging Ventura County near Los Angeles as well. One broke out close to the Borderline Bar & Grill, where a gunman killed 12 people attending college night at the country bar. The two fires, the Woolsey and the Hill fires, had caused the evacuation of 250,000 in Southern California, Cal OES said.
Back in Butte County, concerned friends and family posted frantic messages on Twitter and other sites saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone. Actor James Woods used the hashtag #CampFireWoods on Twitter to help connect families.
Among them was Kim Curtis, who was searching for her grandmother, who told family at 8 a.m. Thursday that she would flee her Paradise home in her Buick with her cat. Her grandmother, who is in her 70s and lives alone, never showed up up at a meeting spot in Chico, though.
"We've just been posting all over social media. And just praying for a miracle, honestly," said Curtis, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings for fire dangers in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through Friday evening.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.