LOS ANGELES, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) — At least five people were killed when a raging wildfire engulfed their vehicles in the northern of the U.S. state of California, as two other blazes forced evacuation in the state, authorities said on Friday.
Investigators with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office located the five fatalities in the area of Edgewood Lane in Paradise town of about 30,000 people in Butte County, about 130 km north of California State’s capital Sacramento.
“The preliminary investigation revealed that the victims were located in vehicles that were overcome by the Camp Fire,” said the sheriff’s office in a release, adding that identification could not be immediately made due to burn injuries.
The Butte County Coroner’s Office has formed an interagency team to investigate and identify additional fatalities, according to the release.
Only a day after it erupted, the wildfire near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square km) and was burning out of control.
The sheriff’s office has received reports of fatalities due to the fire, and investigators are still working to confirm the reports, Sheriff Kory Honea said in the release. “The task is difficult as the fire is still active and there are many hazards in areas where fatalities have been reported.”
The sheriff encouraged residents to check safeandwell.org to locate their loved ones, or contact the office at 5305387322 to request a welfare check or file a missing person’s report.
The rapidly expanding Camp fire blazing through Northern California has disrupted phone and internet service, according to Butte County.
“The County website and network are down due to the campfire. This means some phone numbers are down. All numbers starting with the prefix 552-XXXX are down. Numbers starting with 538-XXXX should be working,” the county tweeted on Friday morning.
The initial five reported deaths put the Camp Fire among the 20 deadliest fires in California modern history, according to Cal Fire. The worst was the Griffith Fire in Los Angeles in 1933, when 29 died.
Besides the Camp fire, the other two Southern California fires, Woolsey and Hill fires, are just miles from a bar where 12 people were killed by a former Marine in a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks.
With flames also burning in Southern California, California state officials put the total number of people forced to flee from their homes at about 157,000. Evacuation orders included the entire celebrity enclave of Malibu.
The Woolsey fire had jumped the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills early Friday and forced mandatory evacuations, including the entire city of Malibu, a city home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The Hill fire pushed through canyons to the edge of Camarillo Springs and Cal State Channel Islands, both of which were evacuated.
The Woolsey fire had grown to nearly 14,000 acres (56 square km), while the Hill fire swept 6,100 acres (25 square km).
Fanned by high winds and fueled by low humidity and dry vegetation, the fires spread rapidly Thursday and overnight into Friday.
The three wildfires, which range from 180 miles northeast of San Francisco to the Santa Rosa Valley in Southern California, come as California recovers from other wildfires that have devastated parts of the state in previous months.