Deadliest Wildfires in California History

The Camp Fire burns near Oroville, California, November 11, 2018

The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history has killed at least 77 people as of Monday morning, November 19. Nearly a thousand people remain missing as a result of the Camp Fire in Butte County, which erupted on November 8. The Camp Fire—named for Camp Creek Road near where it began, not for a campfire—has burned 151,000 acres, destroying some 11,713 homes. As of Monday, it was two-thirds contained.

Meanwhile, in southern California, the Woolsey Fire ravaged coastal communities, killing three people and destroying some 1,500 structures, including celebrities’ homes in Malibu. Located in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, the Woolsey Fire began in Simi Valley before quickly spreading, at several points “jumping” across U.S. Highway 101. Having burned 96,949 acres, it was 94 percent contained as of the 19th.

Low humidity, strong winds, and drought conditions, which had left soils and plants extremely dry, allowed the Camp Fire to spread so fast that many people had little time to evacuate. In Paradise, a town of about 27,000 in the Sierra Nevada foothills, some victims of the fire were found in burned vehicles, overtaken as they fled; others have been found in their burned homes. More than 450 people joined the search to find human remains amid the ashes. An estimated 52,000 people who were displaced by the Camp Fire relocated to designated shelters, motels, homes of friends and relatives, and even a temporary camp in a Walmart parking lot and vacant field in Chico.

Law enforcement and fire prevention officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as Cal Fire, are investigating the causes of the fires. In addition to the significant loss of life and property, the cost of the fires will be staggering. On Wednesday, November 14, at the height of the Camp Fire blaze, more than 5,600 firefighters were on the lines. Two dozen helicopters and 630 fire engines were engaged. Smoke from the fire reached cities hundreds of miles away, producing record poor air quality in northern parts of California—measurably the worst in the world at the time. San Francisco International Airport was forced to delay hundreds of flights due to low visibility.

Image credit: © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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