California wildfires: Communities, first responders and celebrities begin road to recovery as new fires emerge

Chris Riotta

Communities across California have started on the arduous road to recovery even as massive wildfires still blaze through the state and despite more than 100 people remaining missing.

Forecasters predicted extreme “red state” conditions could worsen throughout the week as the death toll in the deadly Camp Fire rose to 56, and the total number of dead across the state hit 59.

Meanwhile, some residents in Southern California and elsewhere were slowly allowed back into their neighbourhoods, where charred vehicles and destroyed homes painted a grim picture.

Authorities searching through the blackened aftermath of California’s deadliest wildfire, the Camp Fire in the north of the state, have released the names of about 130 people who are still missing, including many in their 80s and 90s.

As the names were made public, additional crews joined the search for remains.

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

Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the missing grew increasingly desperate. A message board at a shelter was filled with photos of the missing and pleas for any information. A number of alleged looters were also arrested around the area on Wednesday.

Of the two fires in the south, the smaller Hill Fire is 94 per cent contained, while the Woolsey Fire, which has ripped through more than 97,000 acres and killed at least three, is 47 per cent contained.

US interior secretary Ryan Zinke said it’s not the time to “point fingers” as he was visiting the aftermath of the Camp Fire on Wednesday. Mr Zinke said there were many factors in wildfires, including rising temperatures.

“There’s a lot of reasons for a fire,” he said. “Now is really not the time to point fingers.”

Mr Zinke was visiting the town of Paradise with governor Jerry Brown days after President Trump blamed “poor” forest management for the fire. Mr Brown said climate change was the greater source of the problem and fire officials have said that forest management is not what was behind the fires.

Mr Brown said he spoke with Mr Trump on Wednesday and that the president has pledged “the full resources of the federal government”. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long called the blaze “one of the worst disasters that I’ve seen in my career”.

Local Officials have said they are looking to bring in mobile homes for thousands of people who have lost their houses to the Camp Fire.

Mark Ghilarducci, of the California governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said hotels and rental properties were other options to house people driven from the town of Paradise and neighbouring communities.

The blaze displaced 52,000 people and destroyed more than 7,600 homes, burning through 135,000 acres. It is around 35 per cent contained.

Mr Long said that temporary schools and hospitals will be brought in because rebuilding Paradise will take time.

He says the town of 27,000 won’t be rebuilt the way it was and that “we will all have to work together to find a new normal”.

Celebrities whose homes and communities were ravaged by the wildfires have also chipped in to recovery efforts, providing resources, food and money to foundations working to rebuild the thousands of destroyed homes.

Lady Gaga arrived at a local shelter donning black sunglasses and a hat reading “Malibu”, holding upwards of 10 pizzas. She spoke with community members about the need to support each other during tragedies, and reportedly provided other resources during the visit.

“I am thinking so deeply for everyone who is suffering today from these abominable fires & grieving the loss of their homes or loved ones,” Lady Gaga tweeted. “I’m sitting here with many of you wondering if my home will burst into flames. All we can do is pray together & for each other. God Bless You.”

Paramount Pictures cancelled Sunday’s premiere of the film Instant Family in Los Angeles due the wildfire. The studio said it would donate food ordered for the after party to the American Red Cross, and would screen the film at an evacuation centre.

Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West reportedly hired a private team of firefighters to protect their home and battle blazes within the surrounding area of their mansion in Hidden Hills after the reality TV star flew home and packed for nearly an hour before evacuating.

For now, it remains unclear how much worse the wildfires could become in the coming days. While forecasts have predicted strong winds ahead, it appears rain is also a possibility next week, which could provide the drought-stricken area with much-needed water to help combat the deadly flames.

Additional reporting by AP