At least 23 people have died in the massive fire spreading through northern California in the United States, authorities said on Saturday. Acting Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to provide assistance to the worst-affected places, AFP reported.
“Today, 14 additional bodies were located, which brings our total number to 23,” said Sheriff Kory Honea, adding that 10 of them were found in the town of Paradise while four were discovered in the Concow area. Both places are located in Butte County.
A total of 19 of the 23 deaths have been reported in Paradise, where the raging blaze has destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, mostly houses, along with a hospital, a petrol station, restaurants and vehicles.
“The magnitude of destruction we have seen is really unbelievable and heartbreaking, and our hearts go to everybody who has been affected by this,” said California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.
The Camp Fire blaze broke out in northern California early on Thursday and has so far burnt down 40,500 hectares of land, with more than 3,200 firefighters battling the inferno. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Saturday said the fire is 20% contained and at least three firefighters have been injured. They will need at least three weeks to fully contain the fire.
More wildfires continued to burn in southern California, including one just north of Los Angeles and another in Ventura County near Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed at least 12 people last week. Two bodies were discovered in Malibu, The Guardian reported.
The National Weather Service said the dangerous fire conditions are expected to continue till Tuesday.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Saturday accused the forest department of poor management and threatened to withdraw federal funding. “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”
Trump’s comments were widely criticised, with California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice calling them “ill-informed and ill-timed”.
“The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong,” he said. “Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography.”
Since 60% of California’s forests are under federal control, it was the government that had diverted funds from forest management, said Rice.