California officials say they have found two people dead in Malibu as fire roared through the area, and two arrests have been made for looting in neighboring Ventura County.
The announcement Saturday brings to 11 the number of people who have died in this current batch of wildfires: the Woolsey and smaller Hill Fire in southern California, and the Camp Fire in northern California, where nine people people have died as a result of the flames and smoke. In all, more than 200,000 people have evacuated their homes to avoid the flames.
L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Chief John Benedict confirmed the fatalities at a news conference Saturday. He did not give a cause of death but said homicide investigators are on the scene. He also said, “There is zero tolerance for any looting.”
In Ventura County, Sergeant Eric Buschow announced the looting arrests Saturday. He said the two arrests were made in separate incidents and warned, “If you come here with the intent of taking advantage of the situation, we will arrest you and you will go to jail.”
The Woolsey Fire is threatening about 75,000 homes in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles. The county is also the location of a mass shooting this week that killed 12 people.
The mayor of the city of Thousand Oaks, where the mass shooting took place, says that three-quarters of his city is under fire evacuation orders.
The entire upscale beach town of Malibu has been evacuated, and an historic movie site where Westerns were filmed has been destroyed. Celebrities who live in the area, such as reality star Kim Kardashian West and musician Lady Gaga have been tweeting their concern for their homes and neighbors. Actor Martin Sheen told a local news reporter that he and his wife would probably sleep in their car Friday night.
The Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire erupted Thursday night, fueled by drought conditions and the Santa Ana winds.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted about the fires Saturday, blaming California officials. He said the fires are the result of “gross mismanagement of the forests” and threatened to withhold federal money. He did not mention California’s drought conditions.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
Local media pointed out, however, that half the forested land in California is under federal control
LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at University of California Merced, told the San Francisco Chronicle Trump’s tweet on Saturday oversimplified the issue in California.
“To have a president come out and say it’s all because of forest management is ridiculous. It completely ignores the dynamic of what’s going on around us,” he told the Chronicle. He said rising temperatures and longer spells of dry weather were behind an increase in not only the number of wildfires but their ferocity as well.
Meanwhile, in northern California, where nine people have died, the Camp Fire has destroyed the town of Paradise, north of Sacramento. Thousands of residents fled their homes ahead of the flames.
Officials said the Camp Fire has become the most destructive wildfire in state history. Previously, the Tubbs Fire, which burned nearly 40,000 acres in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties in 2017, had been considered the most destructive wildfire in state history. The Tubbs Fire killed 22 pepole and destroyed more than 5,500 structures.
The Butte County Sheriff’s office said the victims were mostly found dead inside or near their cars. The sudden evacuation led to highway gridlock, forcing some to flee on foot.
Officials said the fire has destroyed 6,453 homes and another 260 commercial structures and has grown to 404 square kilometers.