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After the flames, California recovery crews face grim search for victims

In California, the effort to control two major wildfires remains a struggle. Northern California's Camp Fire has become the deadliest fire in the state's history, claiming at least 42 lives and covering nearly 200 square miles. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire in the southern part of the state remains 35 percent contained but has left 200,000 people under evacuation orders. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    California firefighters are carrying on the battle to control two massive wildfires today.

    The so-called Camp Fire in the north is now the deadliest in the state's history, claiming at least 42 victims. More than 200 people remain unaccounted for. The fire covers nearly 200 square miles and has burned more than 7,600 homes and structures.

    In the southern part of the state, the Woolsey Fire has left two dead, burned more than 400 structures, and remains 35 percent contained; 100,000 people remain under evacuation orders.

    William Brangham has our first report.

  • William Brangham:

    Today, search crews led by coroners are going block by block in Paradise, California, looking for any trace of those who didn't escape the Camp Fire.

  • Brad Weldon:

    Everybody I know lost everything. It's real sad.

  • William Brangham:

    The death toll for this deadliest fire in state history could easily go higher. The Camp Fire sparked Thursday, and quickly destroyed the town of Paradise, and then threatened surrounding communities.

    More than a dozen search-and-recovery teams are scouring through burned-out cars and the ashes of homes. Authorities have requested an additional 150 personnel to help. More survivors recounted their own harrowing escapes.

  • Ken Porter:

    The fire was above us, the fire was below us, in on either sides. I mean, we were totally surrounded and driving through.

  • William Brangham:

    State authorities are now investigating whether sparks from power lines might've started the fire. On the front lines, more than 5,000 firefighters are continuing to fight intense flames and bone-dry conditions.

    They have made some progress in containing the fire as it moves east toward the town of Oroville. Many of the firefighters are trying to stop outbreaks in their own communities.

  • Matt Wallen:

    We all sustained a severe amount of property damage, but, fortunately, a lot of our structures were left. And then to come out here, I mean, this is the calling.

  • William Brangham:

    The fires are so vast that smoke has migrated some 180 miles south, casting a cloud over San Francisco. In Southern California, fire crews continue to drop water and fire-retardant as they work to extend the containment lines around the Woolsey Fire.

  • Mark Lorenzen:

    We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us.

  • William Brangham:

    It also started Thursday, destroying homes and businesses across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Authorities are also investigating whether an outage on a piece of utility equipment caused this particular fire.

    In the seaside town of Malibu, still under a mandatory evacuation, residents saw more of the same destruction: incinerated cars and the skeletons of homes.

  • Paul Rasmussen:

    It was a firestorm, the worse I have ever seen it.

  • Man:

    Houses all around going up in flames. Just a horrific, horrific scene. And there was a number of times when they were wondering, hey, are we going to be able to get out of this?

  • William Brangham:

    As fire officials inspect more of the damaged areas, the total number of homes destroyed is also expected to rise.

  • Amy Payette:

    Twenty people lost their homes in here. I mean, that's just devastating. That's probably the hardest.

  • William Brangham:

    President Trump approved a federal disaster request from California, which will help bolster a dwindling fire budget in a season that has seemed never-ending.

    The president spoke about California from the White House today.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We mourn the lives of those lost. And we pray for the victims. And there are more victims than anybody would ever even think possible.

  • William Brangham:

    State officials say there are numerous factors driving this particular disaster: the lingering effects from the state's drought, warmer temperatures caused by climate change, and more and more housing being built deeper into forested areas.

    This combination, they say, will only make the devastation of future fire seasons worse.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And William will be back with more on what's driving these intense fires later in the broadcast.

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