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Paradise residents fleeing California wildfire got trapped in traffic as death toll rises to 29

Panicked residents living in the path of one of California’s deadliest wildfires became trapped when their escape routes were blocked or got snarled with traffic.

At least seven people burned to death inside their vehicles while trying to escape from Paradise on Thursday as 27,000 people packed on to a four-lane road which was the only route out of town that wasn’t blocked.

Survivors told of how they sat in miles-long tailback as flames licked at their car doors, while others jumped out and ran, carrying pets and valuables.   

When the Camp Fire struck near Paradise on Thursday morning, 27,000 people tried to flee the town on roads that were quickly blocked (pictured, a downed power line stops traffic) or else clogged with cars

Journeys that should have taken minutes ended up taking hours, with dozens of people telling how they jumped out of the cars and ran, carrying whatever they could

Journeys that should have taken minutes ended up taking hours, with dozens of people telling how they jumped out of the cars and ran, carrying whatever they could

Nichole Jolly, 34, a nurse at the hospital in Paradise, said she attempted to flee in her truck before being rammed into a ditch by another motorist trying to get out.

She climbed out of her truck and tried to get into another, but the handles had melted off, so she ran up the road as her pants leg caught on fire.

‘I’m breathing in the hottest air I’ve ever been in. My throat is bloodied, I’m about to hit the ground but the bottom of my shoes were melting,’ she told NBC.

‘I put hand out in front of me and prayed to God, “Please, don’t let me die like this.”‘ 

At least 29 people have died in the Camp Fire which engulfed the town of Paradise, with seven of those found inside burned-out cars

At least 29 people have died in the Camp Fire which engulfed the town of Paradise, with seven of those found inside burned-out cars

Authorities are still searched for bodies among the ash, but say the flames were so intense that many have been reduced to bone fragments

Authorities are still searched for bodies among the ash, but say the flames were so intense that many have been reduced to bone fragments

Evacuations were hindered by the fact that Paradise is a popular retirement community, meaning many residents are elderly and struggle to move

Evacuations were hindered by the fact that Paradise is a popular retirement community, meaning many residents are elderly and struggle to move

Medics at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise were given just 20 minutes to clear all the patients out before the fire arrived

Medics at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise were given just 20 minutes to clear all the patients out before the fire arrived

She did eventually make it to a fire truck, where the crew told her to ‘brace yourself because we might not make it’.

CALIFORNIA FIRES BY THE NUMBERS 

– 29 people have died in Northern California’s Camp fire 

– 2 people have died in Southern California’s Woolsey fire 

– 228 people are still missing 

– 7,000 structures have been damaged

– 57,000 structures still remain under threat 

– 149,000 people still under evacuation order

– 8,000 firefighters on the front lines 

It was only after a bulldozer arrived to clear the road that the truck, and Jolly, were able to escape. 

Meanwhile Lauri Kester, a caretaker for the elderly, told the New York Times that it took an hour to drive just three miles on Thursday as the fire advanced.

Eventually, a police officer running past told Kester to abandon her vehicle and make a break for it. She grabbed her dog Biscuit and ran.

‘It was hot, it was smoky and – this sounds like such an exaggeration, but – it was apocalyptic,’ she said. 

Wendell Whitmore, 62, was another of those who tried to flee Paradise in his car, but was forced to make a break for it on foot as the situation became desperate. 

He told the Sacramento Bee: ‘There were flames to the left of me and flames to the right. The flames were up in the trees, all the houses were on fire.

‘The fire was three feet from my car. The rubber around the windows was melting. That’s when I decided to get out.’  

Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea revealed another 228 people are unaccounted for, adding that finding their remains is proving difficult, as many bodies have been reduced to little more than bone fragments 

Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea revealed another 228 people are unaccounted for, adding that finding their remains is proving difficult, as many bodies have been reduced to little more than bone fragments 

The death toll rose on Sunday after the remains of five people were found inside houses in Paradise, while another was found in a nearby car (pictured, body bags are loaded into a hearse in Paradise) 

The death toll rose on Sunday after the remains of five people were found inside houses in Paradise, while another was found in a nearby car (pictured, body bags are loaded into a hearse in Paradise) 

The extent of the Camp Fire is seen in this satellite image taken on November 10, as it burned through northern California

The extent of the Camp Fire is seen in this satellite image taken on November 10, as it burned through northern California

At least 29 people have died in the Camp wildfire, making it the joint-deadliest in California's history alongside the Griffith Park fire which struck Los Angeles in 1933 (pictured, bodies are located in the town of Paradise)

At least 29 people have died in the Camp wildfire, making it the joint-deadliest in California’s history alongside the Griffith Park fire which struck Los Angeles in 1933 (pictured, bodies are located in the town of Paradise)

University of Nevada Reno archaeology students recover human remains in a mobile home park in Paradise on Sunday

University of Nevada Reno archaeology students recover human remains in a mobile home park in Paradise on Sunday

A car sits next to a trail of metal which was melted by the heat of the fire before solidifying again as the blaze moved away

A car sits next to a trail of metal which was melted by the heat of the fire before solidifying again as the blaze moved away

Jody Jones, mayor of Paradise who previously worked as a traffic specialist in LA, said the town did put together an evacuation plan after a fire tore through in 2008. 

The plan called for Paradise to evacuate neighborhood by neighborhood, and they even practiced it last year, but it fell to pieces within moments on Thursday.

‘I don’t know that you could build the infrastructure to evacuate an entire town that quickly,’ she said. ‘I just don’t know if that’s possible.’

The Rocklin Police Department, which was called on to assist Butte County with the Camp fire, also shared a chilling video of the area’s destruction over the weekend. 

Officers filmed apocalyptic scenes that showed dozens upon dozens of burned-out cars, buses, and trucks, and residential streets that had been completely leveled by the fire.   

In total, 29 people have been killed in the Camp Fire. It is now tied with the deadliest blaze in the state’s history, a fire in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park that occurred in 1933.  

 One of the fire's victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise. Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend

 One of the fire’s victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise. Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend

The map above shows the three major fires currently alight burning in California, two in the south and one in the north

The map above shows the three major fires currently alight burning in California, two in the south and one in the north

Those living in Paradise were ordered to flee their homes as the fire closed in, but found themselves trapped on roads that were not designed to carry that weight of traffic (pictured, burned-out cars near the town)

Those living in Paradise were ordered to flee their homes as the fire closed in, but found themselves trapped on roads that were not designed to carry that weight of traffic (pictured, burned-out cars near the town)

Pieces of crumbling wall and a chimney is all that remains of this house which was gutted in the Camp Fire

Pieces of crumbling wall and a chimney is all that remains of this house which was gutted in the Camp Fire

Some cars never made it off the driveway before being consumed by the flames, which have also destroyed 6,500 buildings

Some cars never made it off the driveway before being consumed by the flames, which have also destroyed 6,500 buildings

Firefighters say that the destruction in Paradise is so complete that identifying remains of the dead will be difficult

Firefighters say that the destruction in Paradise is so complete that identifying remains of the dead will be difficult

Men ‘dressed as US Forest Service workers’ are arrested for suspected looting in devastated Paradise  

Suspected looters who appeared to be impersonating US Forest Service workers have been arrested in Paradise, California.

The town of Paradise has been nearly decimated by the Camp fire, which has already taken 29 lives. 

But it appears some were hoping to take advantage of the devastating tragedy.

Men who were dressed in bright yellow jackets similar to those worn by US Forest Service workers were arrested in the fire zone on Saturday night.  

Suspected looters who appeared to be impersonating Forest Service workers were arrested in Paradise, California on Saturday night. One is pictured here 

Suspected looters who appeared to be impersonating Forest Service workers were arrested in Paradise, California on Saturday night. One is pictured here 

Men who were dressed in bright yellow jackets similar to those worn by US Forest Service workers were arrested in the fire zone

Men who were dressed in bright yellow jackets similar to those worn by US Forest Service workers were arrested in the fire zone

Authorities said the men may have worn the jackets to gain access to the evacuated area, according to CBS San Francisco. 

Police have not disclosed what the men were trying to steal. 

There have been 53 reports of suspected looting in the scorched area. 

And law enforcement have confirmed that the Camp fire has sparked a crime wave in Butte County.  

Authorities said the men may have worn the jackets to gain access to the evacuated area

Authorities said the men may have worn the jackets to gain access to the evacuated area

Police have not disclosed what the men were trying to steal. There have been 53 reports of suspected looting in the scorched area

Police have not disclosed what the men were trying to steal. There have been 53 reports of suspected looting in the scorched area

Sheriff Kory Honea promised on Saturday that looting suspects would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

‘If we discover looting and evidence of looting, we will investigate,’ he said during a press conference on Saturday. 

‘And even if we don’t catch you there, we will investigate to determine if we can identify you and make an arrest.’ 

As of Sunday night, Honea said the department had received 66 additional calls about ‘suspicious incidents’ – including looting – in the area. 

The majority have died in Paradise, which has been almost totally destroyed. Rescue teams are now on the ground in what remains of the town and have been identifying more victims each day.

Sunday saw the death toll rise after five bodies were found inside houses in the burned-out town, while another was discovered in a nearby car.

But 228 people are still unaccounted for after Paradise was engulfed by the flames, meaning that death toll could rise considerably.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the devastation is so complete in some neighborhoods that ‘it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there’.

‘In some cases, the only remains we are able to recover are bones or bone fragments,’ Honea said. 

The statewide total of deaths from wildfires is now at 31, including two people who died inside a car in Malibu while trying to flee the Woolsey fire on Sunday night. 

In southern California, the Woolsey Fire has torched more than 83,000 acres and destroyed 175 buildings along the way

In southern California, the Woolsey Fire has torched more than 83,000 acres and destroyed 175 buildings along the way

The remains of a house can be seen in Westlake Village, near Thousand Oaks, after the Woolsey Fire swept through Sunday

The remains of a house can be seen in Westlake Village, near Thousand Oaks, after the Woolsey Fire swept through Sunday

This was the scene in Westlake Village, in California, on Sunday. The suburb is located in Thousand Oaks, just a few miles from where last week's mass shooting took place

This was the scene in Westlake Village, in California, on Sunday. The suburb is located in Thousand Oaks, just a few miles from where last week’s mass shooting took place

THE FIRST OF 31 VICTIMS IS IDENTIFIED

One of the fire’s victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise.

Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend. 

Breeding said Walker’s husband was at work and called a neighbor to tell his wife to evacuate, but she was on medication and might not have been alert. 

He assumed she had escaped the inferno and was trying to find her at rescue centers until authorities confirmed her death late Friday.

‘Yesterday a fireman took him to the house to confirm, she apparently died in bed,’ Breeding said.

‘This is a devastating thing, and it’s happening to so many people,’ she added.

 

 

Ten search and recovery teams are working in Paradise and authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims. 

The Camp Fire has been the state’s most destructive fire in the state’s history, decimating 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings. Officials expect the numbers to increase significantly. 

It is believed that the Camp fire may have been sparked by downed PG&E power lines, according to Mercury News. 

The fire originated on Camp Creek Road near Highway 70 around 6.30am on Thursday.  Firefighters were dispatched to a vegetation fire in the area ‘under the high tension power lines’ at 6.33am.   

Firefighters immediately realized that the blaze would be hard to access, and that the flames were being fanned by 35 mph winds. 

PG&E had warned customers in Butte County to prepare for a potential ‘proactive power shutoff’ due to high wind and low humidity forecasts. 

But the utility company called off the shutdown, telling customers nine hours after Camp fire began that the weather conditions ‘did not warrant this safety measure’. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation but CalFire spokesman Scott McLean said ‘electric equipment’ was being included in the probe.    

In Southern California, Firefighters put out a red weather alert late on Sunday. High Santa Ana winds could reach up to 50 mph and keep fanning the flames into Tuesday, making things worse before they get better.

Huge plumes of smoke rose in the fire area, which stretches miles from the northwest corner of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley to the Malibu coast. 

‘Sadly, with these winds, it’s not over yet,’ Scott Jalbert, chief of Cal Fire’s San Luis Obispo Unit, said Sunday morning.  

A one-day lull did allow firefighters to gain 10 percent control of the Woolsey fire, which has burned more than 130 square miles in western Los Angeles County and southeastern Ventura County since Thursday.

Osby stressed there were numerous hotspots and plenty of fuel that had not yet burned, but at sunset he said there had been huge successes despite ‘a very challenging day’. 

The fire’s cause remains under investigation but Southern California Edison reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an outage on an electrical circuit near where it started as Santa Ana winds blew through the region.

Officials said the wildfires may intensify due to strong Santa Ana winds as more than 8,000 firefighters continue to battle the deadly infernos

Officials said the wildfires may intensify due to strong Santa Ana winds as more than 8,000 firefighters continue to battle the deadly infernos

SoCal Edison said the report was submitted out of an abundance of caution although there was no indication from fire officials that its equipment may have been involved. 

The report said the fire was reported around 2.24pm on Thursday, two minutes after the outage.

Venture County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen hadn’t heard about the Edison report. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me’ if it turns out that winds caused equipment failure that sparked a fire, he said.

Spot fires continued to occur late Sunday afternoon near the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University, where 3,500 students were sheltering in place. 

The university said it was closing the Malibu campus as well as its Calabasas campus to the north until November 26 but classes would be remotely administered online and through email.

Santa Ana winds, produced by surface high pressure over the Great Basin squeezing air down through canyons and passes in Southern California’s mountain ranges, are common in the fall and have a long history of fanning destructive wildfires in the region.

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect in the areas of the fire in Los Angeles County while neighboring Ventura County lifted some evacuations Sunday night. 

The area covered by the Woolsey fire is shown in red on the right, while the Hill fire is in red on the left. Celebrities affected by the fire include: 1) Gerard Butler, whose house was destroyed; 2) Miley Cyrus, house destroyed; 3) Robin Thicke, house destroyed; 4) Lady Gaga, who has been evacuated; 5) Will Smith, evacuated; 6) Simon Cowell, evacuated; 7) Caitlyn Jenner, evacuated; 8) Kim and Kanye, evacuated

Gerard Butler was among those celebrities able to return to their homes on Sunday after being evacuated, only to find it destroyed

Gerard Butler was among those celebrities able to return to their homes on Sunday after being evacuated, only to find it destroyed

Robin Thicke's home was also completely destroyed by the fire, leaving nothing more than a pile of rubble and ash behind

Robin Thicke’s home was also completely destroyed by the fire, leaving nothing more than a pile of rubble and ash behind

But fire officials say fire behavior has changed statewide after years of drought and record summer heat that have left vegetation extremely crisp and dry.

‘Things are not the way they were 10 years ago…the rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,’ said Lorenzen, urging residents to not put their lives at risk by trying to defend their own homes instead of evacuating.

That change has impacted the ability to move firefighting resources around the state, officials said.

‘Typically this time of year when we get fires in Southern California we can rely upon our mutual aid partners in Northern California to come assist us because this time of year they’ve already had significant rainfall or even snow,’ said Osby, the LA County fire chief.

With the devastation and loss of life in the Northern California fire, ‘it’s evident from that situation statewide that we’re in climate change and it’s going to be here for the foreseeable future,’ he said.

Miley Cyrus also took to Twitter on Sunday to reveal that her home had been destroyed

Miley Cyrus also took to Twitter on Sunday to reveal that her home had been destroyed

The ground at the home of Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth still smolders after the Woolsey Fire in Malibu

The ground at the home of Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth still smolders after the Woolsey Fire in Malibu

Miley's dog statue (pictured) could be seen with smoke coming from the ground next to its feet from the blaze 

Miley’s dog statue (pictured) could be seen with smoke coming from the ground next to its feet from the blaze 

Camille Grammer also revealed on Sunday that she had lost her home, saying it 'couldn't be saved' and posting a picture of it up in flames 

Camille Grammer also revealed on Sunday that she had lost her home, saying it ‘couldn’t be saved’ and posting a picture of it up in flames 

Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson also lost his home in the blaze this weekend. He posted photos of what was still left standing on Saturday 

Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson also lost his home in the blaze this weekend. He posted photos of what was still left standing on Saturday 

Gerard Butler, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Camille Grammer Meyer of ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ were among those whose homes were destroyed.  

Meanwhile the Kardashian clan, Simon Cowell, Will Smith, Lady Gaga and Martin Sheen were among the celebrities who had to evacuate the Malibu and Calabasas areas.   

As of Sunday evening, 29 people were found dead in Northern California’s Camp Fire and two were killed in Southern California’s Woolsey Fire. 

The Camp Fire has already burned through 113,000 acres. As of Sunday evening, it was 25 percent contained.

Officials said it only grew moderately on Sunday despite new wind gusts, which are expected to lessen by Monday. But dangerously low humidity levels will continue into the week. 

FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICEMEN SAVE AMERICAN FLAGS IN DECIMATED TOWNS 

In a town almost completely destroyed by one of the deadliest fires in California’s history, a firefighter was able to save an American flag. 

The firefighter was captured on video walking through the destroyed town of Paradise with the Stars and Stripes this weekend. 

He makes sure to hold the tattered but intact flag above the ground until he finds a mailbox standing in front of a decimated house.  

A firefighter was captured on video rescuing an American flag in the decimated town of Paradise,

The firefighter was seen lifting the flag through the town's rubble-covered streets

A firefighter was captured on video rescuing an American flag in the decimated town of Paradise, California this weekend 

The firefighter then gently drapes the flag over the mailbox, tying two of its strings together to secure it. 

Footage of the firefighter has since been shared by CBS News and quickly went viral. 

Many found the video to be especially moving as it was released on Veteran’s Day.  

The firefighter was then seen gently draping the flag over the mailbox in a touching tribute 

The firefighter was then seen gently draping the flag over the mailbox in a touching tribute 

He took two of the flags dangling strings and tied them together to secure it to the mailbox 

He took two of the flags dangling strings and tied them together to secure it to the mailbox 

It was also a touching tribute to a town that has been almost completely wiped out by the Camp fire, which has killed 29 people.  

Two hours south of Paradise, in the city of Elk Grove, police came upon another patriotic scene. 

Every house in the street had been leveled by the Camp fire. Nothing had been left standing, except for a flag pole.

And flying on top of that pole was a flag in almost perfect condition. 

Elk Grove Police said they secured the flag and wrote down the address of the home, hoping they can one day return the flag to its rightful owners. 

Two hours south of Paradise, in the city of Elk Grove, police came upon an American flag still standing on a street where every house had been destroyed 

Two hours south of Paradise, in the city of Elk Grove, police came upon an American flag still standing on a street where every house had been destroyed 

Nothing had been left standing, except for a flag pole and the flag (pictured) which was still in almost perfect condition 

Nothing had been left standing, except for a flag pole and the flag (pictured) which was still in almost perfect condition 

‘In terms of the overall long-range (forecast), there is no significant precipitation or cooldown,’ National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun told the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. 

‘The forecast remains dry and unseasonably warm through the rest of the week and through the weekend at this time.’  

The Woolsey fire has spread to 91,572 acres and was 20 percent contained as of Monday morning.

Progress was made on the lines of the smaller Hill fire to the west in Ventura County, which was 80 percent contained at about seven square miles, and evacuations were greatly reduced. The Hill Fire has burned through 4,531 acres.

The California Department of Forestry and Protection expanded its red-flag warning through Monday due to the ‘gusty winds and low humidity’.  

The burnt out remains of a Malibu mansion that was decimated by the Woosley fire is seen on Sunday afternoon 

The burnt out remains of a Malibu mansion that was decimated by the Woosley fire is seen on Sunday afternoon 

The neighborhood was run over by the Southern California fire, which leveled a number of mansions including many that belonged to celebrities 

The neighborhood was run over by the Southern California fire, which leveled a number of mansions including many that belonged to celebrities 

A deck is seen burning at a Malibu mansion that was hit by the Woosley fire, which consumed more than 70,000 acres 

A deck is seen burning at a Malibu mansion that was hit by the Woosley fire, which consumed more than 70,000 acres 

All that is left standing of what was once a weight room in the backyard of a Malibu mansion is seen on Sunday afternoon

All that is left standing of what was once a weight room in the backyard of a Malibu mansion is seen on Sunday afternoon

Meanwhile, Gov Jerry Brown has asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover. 

Brown’s request for a major-disaster declaration from Trump would make victims eligible for crisis counseling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid. 

Trump has blamed ‘poor’ forest management for the fires. Brown told a press briefing that federal and state governments must do more forest management but said that’s not the source of the problem.

‘Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change,’ Brown said. ‘And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years.’ 

Brown warned that it would take ‘hundreds of billions’ of dollars to continue to fight California’s growing number of wildfires and blamed climate change for ‘threatening our whole way of life’. 

‘This is not the new normal,’ he said. ‘This is the new abnormal.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk