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Camp Fire kills 23, becoming California’s deadliest wildfire since 1991

(John Locher | The Associated Press) Krystin Harvey, left, comforts her daughter Araya Cipollini at the remains of their home burned in the Camp Fire, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. The blaze that started Thursday outside the hilly town of Paradise has grown and destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes, making it California's most destructive wildfire since record-keeping began. But crews have made gains and the fire is partially contained, officials said Saturday.

Already the most destructive wildfire in California history, the Camp Fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills has become the state’s third deadliest — killing 23 people in three days, with more than 100 people unaccounted for in a charred swath of land larger than Detroit.

Although the fire had been 25 percent contained by Sunday, high temperatures and gusty winds made the weather optimal for the Northern California fire to spread for at least another day.

As of Saturday, the Camp Fire had destroyed nearly 7,000 structures in and around the mountain town of Paradise and has been blamed for most of the last week's fire deaths. The wildfire is the deadliest in the state since 1991. In Southern California, two people were found dead in fires burning outside Los Angeles.

"This event was the worst-case scenario," Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea said. "It's the event that we have feared for a long time."

Honea, who is also the county coroner, told the Associated Press that he had to add a fifth search-and-recovery team to help find bodies. Authorities have not released the names of victims and have continued to search for more.

His office has also ordered an additional DNA lab truck and received help from anthropologists at California State University at Chico for a time-consuming and daunting task: In some cases, investigators have found only bones or bone fragments.

A deer walks past a destroyed home on Orrin Lane after the wildfire burned through Paradise, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Not much is left in Paradise after a ferocious wildfire roared through the Northern California town as residents fled and entire neighborhoods are leveled. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The smoke, like orange fog, that enveloped Chico and surrounding towns Friday gave way to a low-lying haze that spread all the way up to Redding over the weekend, thanks to a shift in winds. As the fire moved on, displaced residents were allowed to return to whatever was left of their homes, in some cases finding only ash and charred foundations.

President Donald Trump has alternated between offering sympathy for displaced people and firefighters, and lashing out at California's leaders over what he deemed poor forest management.

"With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!" he tweeted Sunday morning, echoing a refrain that he has frequently leveled at California officials and threatening to withhold federal money.

Officials shot back that increasingly destructive fires are a result of global warming, which dry out vegetation and turn large swaths of grassland into a tinderbox.

A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, D, said that more federal forest land has burned than state land, adding that the state has expanded its forestry budget while the Trump administration has cut its budget for forest services.

Brian K. Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters Association, chided Trump, calling his words "ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines."

As the argument intensified, state firefighters found their resources divided between a historic fire in the north and a pair of fires in the south.

Near Los Angeles, about 200,000 people were displaced by the Woolsey Fire, which began midafternoon Thursday near Simi Valley, even as fire departments were responding to a second wildfire, the Hill Fire, just west of Thousand Oaks.

The Woolsey Fire proved to be explosive, expanding within 24 hours to about 35,000 acres. It raced from the Conejo Valley to the Pacific Ocean, across Highway 101 and the Santa Monica mountains, at speeds that impressed veteran fire officials.

Authorities said two bodies were found, both burned, in Malibu in a vehicle that had been in the path of the wildfire, though homicide investigators are still working that case and have not officially declared a cause of death. Winds eased Saturday, but they are expected to increase again Sunday. The dry air, high winds and lack of rain are conducive to fires, and this weather is forecast to continue until late Tuesday.

The embers were largely gone Saturday, but the smoke remained - inescapable, pooling in low-lying areas. Spot fires remained, and the ground smoldered. Among the properties consumed by flames was Paramount Ranch, a fake Western town used for HBO's "Westworld" and other shows dating back more than a half-century.

In Oak Park, a community 40 miles from Los Angeles, Richard Gwynn, 75, and his wife, Lynda Gwynn, 70, surveyed the burned landscape of what used to be their home. She became emotional, looking at a canyon where her children had once played, now blackened by fire.

“Winds are coming back tonight, and they’re going to blow all day Monday,” Richard Gwynn said. “But there’s nothing left to burn.”

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