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Wildfires deadliest on record in California with 31 killed

Hot dry winds expected to blow until Tuesday whipped up the flames and heightened the urgency of evacuation orders.

The death toll from wildfires raging in the US state of California rose to 31 after six more people were found dead in what is poised to become the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Officials said the bodies of five people were found in their burned-out homes and the sixth was found in a vehicle in northern California's Camp Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Sunday evening.

More than 200 people are still unaccounted for, Honea said.

The devastation was so complete in some neighborhoods that "it's very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there", he said. 

The so-called Camp Fire in the northern part of the state has claimed at least 29 lives since it broke out on Thursday. Hundreds of kilometres to the south at least two people died in the Woolsey conflagration threatening the wealthy beach community of Malibu, near Los Angeles.

Looting was reported in the southern fire area and arrests were made, police reported.

Exponential spread 

Hot dry winds - expected to blow until Tuesday - whipped up the flames and heightened the urgency of evacuation orders, officials said.

"We are entering a new normal. The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be," said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, noting at a news conference that California's fires in 2018 grow far more quickly than they did even 10 years ago.

Several officials urged residents to heed evacuation orders.

Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.

"I'm also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother's somewhere and you don't know where she's at. You don't know if she's safe," he said.

'Get smart'

The Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in Paradise, more structures than any other California wildfire on record, and the death toll, which could rise, also makes it one of the deadliest.

Its death toll now equals that of the Griffith Park Fire in 1933, the deadliest wildfire on record in California.

President Donald Trump, on a trip to France, said in a Twitter post early Sunday, "With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!"

The Republican president has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.

State officials have blamed climate change and said many of the burn areas have been in federally managed lands.


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