The death toll from destructive fires hitting California rose to 23 Saturday as rescue workers recovered more bodies of people killed by the late-season infernos.
Firefighters battled raging fires at both ends of the state – in Butte County, a scenic area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Sacramento, and in the Los Angeles area, where two deaths possibly related to a fire were reported.
There is little hope of containing the flames anytime soon, as the National Weather Service said strong winds and dry conditions were expected through the weekend.
“Today, 14 additional bodies were located, which brings our total number to 23,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at a late Saturday news conference as he discussed a blaze known as the “Camp Fire.”
Acrid smoke from the fire covered the sky for miles, the sun barely visible. On the ground, cars caught in the flames were reduced to metal carcasses, while power lines were gnawed by the flames.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for more than 52,000 people in the area.
In the town of Paradise more than 6,700 buildings – including a hospital, a gas station, and several restaurants – have been consumed by the fire.
Rescuers removed human remains over several hours in Paradise and placed them in a black hearse. Charred body parts were transported by bucket, while intact remains were carried in body bags.
At the Holly Hills Mobile Estate the mobile homes had been reduced to smoldering piles of debris. Yellow police tape marked spots that were tagged “Doe C” and “Doe D,” suggesting that bodies were found there.
Locals fled the danger, but police told. some farmers returned to check on their cattle.
Fanned by strong winds, the blaze has so far scorched 100,000 acres (40,500 hectares) and is 20 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. So far, three of the more than 3,200 firefighters deployed have been injured. They estimate they will need three weeks to fully contain the blaze.
Local power authorities told state officials that an outage occurred near the spot where the fire erupted, The Sacramento Bee reported, but there is no official cause of the Camp Fire blaze.