Death Toll In California Wildfires Climbs To At Least 31
Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET
Wildfires continued to tear through Northern and Southern California on Monday, where firefighters were at the mercy of dry air and whipping winds fanning the deadly blazes. At least 31 people have died statewide; more than 200 remain unaccounted for.
Authorities in Northern California said six more bodies were found in the scorched path of what officials call the Camp Fire, which earlier was blamed for 23 deaths. Two people have been reported dead in a fire zone of Southern California.
As of Sunday night, the Camp Fire was only 25 percent contained at 111,000 acres (173 square miles), the Butte County Fire Department and Cal Fire said in a Sunday evening joint news conference. More than 4,500 personnel are working to combat it.
According to authorities, 52,000 people have evacuated the Camp Fire area and 1,385 people are in shelters.
Authorities have yet to account for 228 people.
Many people who were first reported missing have since been found in shelters, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "We're working with shelters to try to get that information so that we can resolve those cases, but there has been some difficulty," he said.
His office has established additional hotlines for those trying to locate their loved ones.
Steve Kaufmann, a Ventura County Fire Department captain, said 6,713 structures have been leveled by the Camp Fire — among them, 6,435 homes. "We anticipate that number will increase significantly," he said.
The Camp Fire ramped up quickly from Saturday into Sunday, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Josh Bischof said. Some areas were calmer, including Paradise and Magalia, where responders entered and were able to "mop up patrol around structures," he said. Aircraft also were able to enter the "problem area" of Santos Ranch to contain the fire.
"There is still very steep, very challenging area between Santos Ranch up into the bottom part of Magalia," Bischof said. "However, we are making progress."
Winds gusts increased Saturday night, setting a "red flag wind warning" — meaning active critical weather conditions of strong gusty winds and dry conditions will present a challenge to firefighters and containment efforts.
"Once we get through that, we'll still see very dry conditions over the next few days but with lighter winds, which is a good thing for firefighters," said Alex Hoon, a fire weather meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
A red flag warning will remain in effect until 7 a.m. PT (10 a.m. ET). The last rainfall in the area that amounted to even a half-inch came 211 days ago.
Authorities are anticipating additional spot fires and are primed and ready to combat potential fires in the areas south of North Fork Feather River.
Evacuation orders are in effect for Berry Creek, Rush Creek, Mountain House and Bloomer Hill.
About 500 miles south of the Camp Fire, the Woolsey fire that's put about 170,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders is now 15 percent contained, according to Cal Fire data. The fire, fueled by whipping Santa Ana winds, has grown marginally to 85,500 acres (134 square miles).
In Southern California, those who fled included the Fortier family.
"All three peaks were on fire, with the wind blowing the flame" says Johnny Fortier, describing the scene. "I said an 'Our Father,' tried to bless our homes, and realized it's time to go."
"We basically left with the clothes on our bodies, some pictures from the wall, some religious items," said Fortier, who fled along with his wife, Shandra, and their three children.
The couple returned to their home on Sunday to find what Fortier called "a war zone." Of the home they had lived in for more than 12 years, he added, "its entire contents — it's all gone."
Some mandatory evacuation orders in the region have lifted, including areas in Thousand Oaks, where authorities anticipate sporadic utility outages.
Thousand Oaks Mayor Andrew Fox says it's likely that some of the town's residents who were affected by last week's shootings also were forced to evacuate — and that memorial services for the victims were delayed because of the fire.
Discussing the afternoon after the shooting, Fox told NPR's David Greene, "We very quickly pivoted into an evacuation center for fire."
Fox added, "The logistics to managing a fire of this magnitude, it's like moving an army, so you have to have places for firefighters to sleep, to eat."
Paramount Ranch — the backdrop for many films and television shows, including Westworld — has also been destroyed.
As NPR reported Saturday, investigators in Malibu are looking into the deaths of two people after their bodies were found "severely burned" inside a vehicle.
NPR's Laura Roman contributed to this report.
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