California Wildfires Rage; Death Toll at 31, with 228 Missing

Deadly wildfires raged Monday at several sites in California, with authorities saying 31 people have been killed, while another 228 are missing.

In the vast state along the Pacific Ocean, officials said that 150,000 residents have been displaced as high winds and tinder-dry conditions have helped fuel blazes that have torched more than 1,000 square kilometers of forest lands, residential communities and business districts.

Twenty-nine of the deaths occurred in a northern California fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and is still only 25 percent contained. 

The inferno was so intense that on three occasions it jumped 90 meters across a portion of Lake Orville.  For a while, there was a lull in the strong winds in the region, but forecasters are predicting gusts as high as 64 kilometers per hour late Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and asked for financial aid from the federal government in Washington.

President Donald Trump threatened over the weekend to cut off government assistance to California because of what he said was poor forest management in the state, the most populous in the U.S.

Trump made no mention of years-long drought conditions in California. Brown said federal and state governments could improve forest management, but said climate change with warmer temperatures was a bigger source of the fire hazard.

On Monday, Trump praised the several thousand firefighters battling the blazes, saying, “The California Fire Fighters, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and First Responders are amazing and very brave. Thank you and God Bless you all!”

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. It has destroyed about 6,600 buildings and is the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

The Butte County Sheriff’s office said the victims were mostly found dead inside or near their cars. 

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 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.