As crews battle deadly Camp, Woolsey fires, new blaze breaks out in Southern California

Posted at 2:40 PM, Nov 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-14 15:40:20-05

PARADISE, CA (AP/RNN) - A new fire, dubbed the Sierra Fire, broke out in Southern California Tuesday night, covering 20 acres in about 15 minutes, the Los Angeles Times reports. Strong wind helped the fire spread quickly.

No evacuations have been ordered, but some people fled anyway, as the fire jumped into backyards and perilously close to houses in Rialto, CA.

Fire officials continued battling the blaze into the night.

Meanwhile, about 80 miles away, firefighters made progress Tuesday against the Hill and Woolsey Fires, the latter of which has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures.

Authorities allowed residents back into several communities, including a section of Malibu, but officials tempered optimism with caution, saying there were hotspots and pockets of unburned vegetation that could ignite.

“We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.

The huge blaze briefly gained renewed life with a flare-up in the Santa Monica Mountains before water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft beat it back.

Tens of thousands of people remained under evacuation orders, down from a high of as many as 250,000.

At the other end of the state, Northern California authorities on Tuesday reported six more fatalities from the Camp Fire, bringing the total number of dead so far to 50. They haven’t disclosed the total number still missing, but earlier in the week that figure was more than 200.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said a list of the missing would be released soon and that 100 National Guard troops would help teams already looking for remains.

The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone’s genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

“We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can,” Honea said. “This is a very difficult task.”

A fire official said fire crews have been aided by cooler weather and diminishing winds have managed to slow the spread.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean said Wednesday the blaze has charred 210 square miles (544 square kilometers) and that it is one-third contained.

He says strong winds have subsided and humidity is up, helping more than 5,600 firefighters.

More than 1,000 people were at shelters set up for evacuees as they waited on news of loved ones.

“It happened so fast. It would have been such an easy decision to stay, but it was the wrong choice,” said Greg Gibson from the Neighborhood Church in Chico, CA.

Harold Taylor, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane, said he received a call Thursday morning to evacuate immediately. He saw the flames leaping up behind his house, left with the clothes on his back and barely made it out alive.

Along the way, he tried to convince his neighbor to get in his car and evacuate with him, but the neighbor declined. He doesn't know what happened to his friend.

"We didn't have 10 minutes to get out of there," he said. "It was already in flames downtown, all the local restaurants and stuff," he said.

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

The causes of the fires remains under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place two utilities reported equipment trouble.

People who lost homes in the Camp Fire sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire.

PG&E did not maintain its infrastructure and failed to properly inspect and manage its power transmission lines, according to the lawsuit filed in state court in California by more than two dozen fire victims.

Copyright 2018 Associated Press, Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.