California wildfires: Firefighters work to contain new fires as search for bodies continues

Sarah Harvard

Firefighters are battling the blazes that are ravaging California on several new fronts, while rescuers search for remains in the wreckage left by the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history

At least 44 people have died in the fires, with 42 of those deaths caused by the Camp Fire that has virtually destroyed the town of Paradise that 27,000 people had called home.

The first victims have been identified – among them Carl Wiley, 77, musician Ernest Foss, 63 and Jesus Fernandez, 48, who died alongside his beloved dog King. However, hundreds of people are still missing, with many relatives having been unable to reach their loved ones since the fire began on Thursday.

Mr Foss moved to Paradise eight years ago because the high cost of living pushed him out of the San Francisco Bay Area, according to his daughter, Angela Loo. He had swollen limbs and couldn't walk, and had also been on oxygen.

Ms Loo told KTVU-TV in Oakland that her father taught music out of their home in San Francisco and had turned the living room into a studio.

“I love that he shared his gift of music with me and so many others during his lifetime,” she said. “He would want to be remembered for being a San Franciscan through and through.”

As search teams continue looking for people who are missing, efforts were under way on Tuesday to bring in mobile morgues, cadaver dogs, a rapid DNA analysis system for identifying victims, and an extra 150 search-and-rescue personnel on top of 13 teams already looking for remains — a grim indication that the death toll will most likely rise.

Firefighters continue to work on holding containment lines to delay the wildfire's path towards the town of Oroville. The fire is about 30 per cent contained.

Meanwhile, in southern California, firefighters are working to extend their containment of the Woolsey Fire, which has killed at least two people. The wind, however, places the Southern California region from the metropolitan area of Los Angeles to San Diego County at high risk for more wildfire threats.

The wildfire has burned more that 146 square miles, destroying at least 435 buildings and displacing more than 57,000 people. The wildfire is expected to be fully contained by Thursday, but winds estimated to reach up to 75mph could worsen the wildfire and leave thousands more residents in treacherous conditions.

Authorities have begun to allow a few residents to return to their homes, but many communities such as Malibu are still under mandatory evacuation orders.

In Ventura County, the Hill Fire has burnt nearly seven square miles and is about 90 per cent contained.

The wildfires have prompted US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to cancel his White House-sanctioned trip to Asia. Instead, he will be heading to California to offer support and condolences to residents. Mr Zinke will travel to regions devastated by the Camp and Woolsey fires, and he is scheduled to meet California governor Jerry Brown.

During a press conference on Tuesday, president Donald Trump thanked firefighters and first responders for their efforts in combating the wildfires.

The president also said he signed a disaster declaration, and that the White House would do everything in [its] power to support and protect citizens in harms way.