As deadly wildfires burned at multiple sites in the western U.S. state of California, forecasters warned the dry, windy conditions fueling the fires will be in place through at least Tuesday.
Thousands of fire personnel are trying to contain the Camp Fire burning north of the state capital, Sacramento, which began last week and has killed at least 29 people. Authorities said 228 people are still unaccounted for.
Fire officials say the fire is about 25 percent contained and has destroyed some 6,600 buildings. It is the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
Evacuations were ordered for the east side of the neighboring town of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people, as flames from the blaze were being driven by 56 kph winds.
The winds helped the fire nearly quadruple in size between Thursday and Friday, complicating evacuation efforts.
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.
In southern California, a pair of fires erupted last week — the Woolsey Fire and the nearby Hill Fire. Firefighters have been able to bring the Hill Fire to 75 percent containment, while the Woolsey Fire was 15 percent contained on Monday.
Authorities have reported two deaths from those fires.
The Woolsey Fire is threatening about 75,000 homes in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles.
Ventura 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 three-quarters of his city is under fire evacuation orders.
President weighs in
U.S. President Donald Trump, while in France for the centenary remembrance of the end of World War I, continued to blame state forest managers for the devastation, but did not mention years of drought in the most populous U.S. state.
“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!” Trump said on Twitter.
Earlier, he warned California residents that the “fires are expanding very, very quickly (in some cases 80-100 acres a minute). If people don’t evacuate quickly, they risk being overtaken by the fire. Please listen to evacuation orders from State and local officials!”
He said 4,000 firefighters are battling the Camp and Woolsey fires that had burned nearly 70,000 hectares. “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated,” and the families of those who have been killed. “The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”
But he contended, “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!
Officials disagree with president
But authorities in California disputed Trump’s assessment.
Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, said, “… nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management … It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California … At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame.”
On Sunday, Rice told CNN that Trump’s statement was “stupid” and “callous” and did not take into account California’s seven-year drought.
LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at University of California Merced, told the San Francisco Chronicle Trump’s tweets 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.