Roughly two days after they first exploded into being, the wildfires blazing across California continued to expand on Saturday as firefighters in Butte County in Northern Cali struggled to contain the Camp Fire – now the most destructive blaze in California history – while the Woolsey and Hill fires burning through Los Angeles and Ventura County have driven hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes and torched ritzy neighborhoods in Malibu and other celebrity-friendly strongholds.
Together, the three fires have killed at least 11 people, as the National Weather Service warned that ideal wildfire conditions would persist through mid-week.
Fortunately for the thousands of firefighters battling the blazes, officials said they expect a pause in the Santa Ana winds on Saturday that could offer a break to tamp down the flames before the winds return on Sunday.
Ironically, Thousand Oaks, which was once considered one of the safest cities in the country before a crazed gunman massacred 12 people at a local bar earlier this week, has been surrounded by flames, forcing residents to flee.
One resident told CBS News that the combined impact of the disasters was “devastating” on the town’s collective psyche.
“It’s devastating. It’s like ‘welcome to hell,'” resident Cynthia Ball said about the dual disasters while she was outside the teen center serving as a shelter for evacuees. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s like we’re all walking around kind of in a trance.”
According to the latest figures, the Camp Fire has grown to more than 140 square miles (and more than 100,000 acres) and destroyed more than 6,700 structures, almost all of them homes, making it California’s most destructive wildfire since record-keeping began. As of Saturday morning, it was 20% contained.
Firefighters haven’t discovered the cause of the fire yet. However, Pacific Gas & Electric Company reported that there was a problem on an electrical transmission line near the site of the Camp fire that was reported about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out. The company later discovered damage to a transmission tower near the town of Paradise.
Authorities said at least nine people have been killed in the Camp Fire, and 3 firefighters have been injured,a s the blaze continued to threaten some 15,000 structures.
Ideal fire conditions are expected to persist in Northern California through Monday, per the NWS.
Critical fire weather conditions expected across #NorCal Saturday night – Monday morning due to strong winds & dry conditions. Please be cautious & practice fire safety! #CAwxpic.twitter.com/m8EuEeu2TK
In one harrowing video posted to YouTube, one evacuee who returned to Paradise, the community of some 27,000 that was completely leveled by the Camp Fire, and was also the source of the most fatalities as elderly residents in a local retirement community struggled to flee, shared footage of charred bodies left behind by the storm. “I went to her house right here with this white car to take them out. She had to put her makeup on. She died because of it,” he can be heard saying in the video.
Smoke from the fires could be seen from space.
CBS reported Saturday that the Woolsey and Hill fires that had decimated Malibu are racing down hill toward the Pacific. Woolsey alone has grown to 35,000 acres, or 54 square miles, equivalent, roughly, to the size of Akron, Ohio. It remained 0% contained, and has so far forced some 240,00 evacuations. The Hill Fire was holding at 6,000 acres.
Firefighters have barely managed to contain the fires, and in the latest sign that they could continue to burn through much of next week, the LA branch of the National Weather Service warned that another round of Santa Ana winds is expected to rotate on and off on Sunday through Tuesday.
After a brief period of light winds today, expect another round of Santa Ana winds expected Sunday morning through Tuesday. Peak winds each morning through early afternoon hours. Here is a graphic for Sunday’s expected gusts. Thanks to all the firefighters! #WoolseyFire#cawxpic.twitter.com/d19q3mx1AG
As police directed residents fleeing the Woolsey Fire south toward Santa Monica, refugees who had fled to Malibu expecting safety were dismayed to find that the fire in relentless pursuit, according to USA Today.
At the Point Dume Village shopping Center north of the famed Malibu pier, business was brisk at a coffee bar, the Cafe De La Plage. The customers all fit into the look of the locals – T-shirts, shorts and sandals – but many of them were evacuees who had fled their homes the night before in the belief Malibu would be a safe haven.
“I am just very unhappy,” said James Collins, 48, from the small community of Cornell. He said he had been evacuated at 4 a.m. but he was taking it in stride, noting the rest of the nation has had its share of natural disasters recently.
“Other people have rain. We have fire,” Collins said.
City authorities in Malibu ordered the evacuation of all 13,000 residents of the city as the blaze threatened the homes of celebrities like Julia Roberts, Caitlyn Jenner, Mel Gibson, Lady Gaga, Courteney Cox, Julia Roberts and Patrick Dempsey. Officials in LA warned of an “imminent threat” while Ventura County officials warned the fire would likely make a run all the way to the Pacific coast.