NASA satellite photo of the area in California affected by the November 2018 fires. Photo: NASA
16 Nov 2018

3300 firefighters fighting the California fires - 66 dead and over 600 people still missing

Forest Fires
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Civilian Deaths
Natural Disasters

The number of confirmed dead in the recent California fires are now 66, according to authorities. But the true number could be higher as 631 people were still reported missing on Thursday.

The dramatic rise in those unaccounted for came after authorities combed through a week of 911 calls and incident reports. Combined with relatives who have reported loved ones missing, investigators are looking into reports of 631 people possibly missing, according to CNN.

 

Started in the City of Paradise - California is expected to burn for weeks

The fire named "Camp Fire" rushed in very quickly over Paradise. People panicked and fled on foot. The city is now almost completely burned down.

Already the first few hours, only two fires in the state had had higher death tolls - the forest fires in Griffith Park in 1933 and the "Tunnel Four" firewood in Oakland in 1991, wrote AFP News Agency. Now, only a week later,  , as the "Camp Fire" has spread and affected larger areas in several different fires, it is the most devastating fire in California history.

 

Gathering their dead

Strong winds have been fueling the fire. Still on Sunday, it was estimated that three quarters were out of control. Getting full control will take about three weeks, according to California's Forest Fire and Fire Department, Cal Fire.

Rescue workers have spent the week collecting the dead - more whole bodies in luggage bags, carbonized body parts in buckets.

Hospital staff in Paradise have had to work very hard to save both patients -  and themselves. During the evacuation of Adventist Health Feather River Hospital,  nurse Nichole Jolly, saw  the trees in the parking lot in flames.

"My shoes were melting. I prayed to God, please do not let me die like this, she says to NBC News.

"Camp Fire" has destroyed 6,700 homes and other buildings in Paradise. One could say that the city is burned out from  the map.

Further south, in the exclusive beach resort of Malibu with 13,000 inhabitants, everyone was ordered to leave their homes on Friday a week ago.

The authorities have called on over a quarter of millions of people in the state not to ignore the warnings but immediately leave their homes.

But the police report that some farmers defy the fire and return to their farms to look after the cattle.

Families who have lost homes are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, Butte County Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Mayer said.

 

The Camp Fire has leveled thousands of homes in Paradise, north of Sacramento.

The Camp Fire has leveled thousands of homes in Paradise, north of Sacramento.

 

"We just had 10% of our county's housing stock erased in one day; it's hard to convey the significance of that," he said.

Officials have said it's hard to determine the number of missing. Some people who may have evacuated can't be reached because cell phone service is unreliable. Others haven't reached out to relatives, and they may not know someone is looking for them, said Kory Honea, a sheriff in Butte County.

"You have to understand, this is a dynamic list," Honea said. "Some days might be less people, some days might be more people, but my hope at the end of the day, we have accounted for everybody."

A week after two major wildfires sparked at both ends of California, the death toll has increased to 66 statewide, fire officials said.

The Camp Fire -- the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California´s history -- has  also destroyed about 9,700 homes and scorched 142,000 acres. By early Friday, it was 45% contained.

Hundreds of deputies, National Guard troops and coroners are sifting through leveled homes and burned out cars for remains.

More than 3,300 firefighters are making progress against the massive wildfire, which was 62% contained as of Thursday.

Some mandatory evacuations remained in place late Thursday due to damaged utility poles, power lines and roads.

More than 230,000 acres burned in California in the past week -- larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. And in 30 days, firefighters have battled more than 500 blazes, Cal Fire said.

 

"Emergency Alerts sent out too late"

Many people did not receive emergency alert warnings, and some who did received them too late.

Instead, they learned of the danger not from authorities but through their own eyes and ears, or from concerned friends and family.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea defended the county's use of the emergency alert system during the fire. He said the situation was "extraordinarily chaotic and rapidly moving" and so it took time for fire experts to get to the scene, determine the fire's direction and warn the affected people -- time they just didn't have.

"There were notifications sent out, but as I said over and over again, this fire was moving so rapidly we couldn't keep ahead of it," Honea said.

Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said landline phones are automatically enrolled in the county's alert system, but cell phones have to be opted in to get the alerts. She said they have conducted drives to get people to register, but she wasn't sure how many residents signed up.

 

 

Satellite photo

 

Satellite Photos:

California continues to be plagued by wildfires - including the Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in Northern California, now one of the deadliest in the state's history. NASA satellites are observing these fires - and the damage they're leaving behind - from space.

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, produced new damage maps using synthetic aperture radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites. The first map shows areas likely damaged by the Woolsey Fire as of Sunday, Nov. 11. It covers an area of about 50 miles by 25 miles (80 km by 40 km) - framed by the red polygon. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasing ground surface change, or damage.


The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created these Damage Proxy Maps (DPMs) depicting areas in California likely damaged by the Woolsey and Camp Fires. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
 

The second map (above) shows damage from the Camp Fire in Northern California as of Saturday, Nov. 10. It depicts an area of about 55 miles by 48 miles (88 km by 77 km) and includes the city of Paradise, one of the most devastated areas. Like the previous map, red areas show the most severe surface change, or damage. The ARIA team compared the data for both images to the Google Crisismap for preliminary validation.

Although the maps may be less reliable over vegetated terrain, like farmland, they can help officials and first responders identify heavily damaged areas and allocate resources as needed.

More information about ARIA is available here:

https://aria.jpl.nasa.gov/