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From Paradise to ‘hell,’ California fires blaze statewide

Over a dozen active fires continue to wreak destruction across California, from the northern part of the state to Malibu and Oak Park outside Los Angeles. Nearly a quarter million people have been displaced and hundreds are missing. Amidst dry, windy weather, 8,000 firefighters statewide struggle to contain the blazes. Mary MacCarthy of Feature Story News joins Judy Woodruff with the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The deadly wildfires in California continue to wreak destruction today. Thousands of acres are burning in more than a dozen active fires across the state. A total of 31 people are known to have died and more than 200 people are still unaccounted for.

    Mary MacCarthy of Feature Story News is on the ground, and starts with this report.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    The scene in Paradise, California is apocalyptic. The Camp Fire has left a deadly trail of wreckage through the Northern California town just five days after it started burning.

  • Courtenay Jenvey:

    There were people literally burning in their cars, running down the street, abandoning their vehicles, dying on the road. It was just utter — it was just utter panic.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    And the state's most destructive fire in history could still do more damage. Across the state, more than 8,000 firefighters are battling flames amid wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. In total, some 224,000 people have been displaced.

    The Camp Fire began Thursday morning and decimated the town of Paradise and it's burning near the 90,000 people of Chico. Social media video captured the frenzied scenes as residents fled Paradise. The 27,000-person town has largely been incinerated. Husks of cars line streets next to homes reduced to rubble.

    One survivor described the moments as the fire tore through.

  • Terran Heinke:

    It was just a shower of hot embers. The wind was blowing really heavily, and it was spot firing ahead of the fire.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    Efforts to find missing loved ones are under way. Ten search crews are scouring Paradise and the surrounding towns. They have found more bodies in the ashes, using DNA experts to identify the dead.

    More than 200 people remain unaccounted for. Part of that may be because those missing have not been able to get in touch with loved ones, but the death toll is still expected to rise.

    In Southern California, the Woolsey fire continues to grow and wreak havoc. It began Thursday afternoon and has spread into parts of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Firefighters are battling gusty conditions as the powerful Santa Ana winds fan the flames.

    Officials forced evacuations in Thousand Oaks, where last week a gunman killed 12 people and himself at a country western bar.

  • Cynthia Bell:

    It's devastating. It's like welcome to hell. I don't even know what to say. We're all walking around kind of in a trance.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    The fire has also ravaged the seaside town of Malibu, where multimillion-dollar houses and mobile homes in the hills have been destroyed.

  • Woman:

    Oh, my God. I'm surrounded by fire. I'm surrounded by fire right now. I don't know what to do.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    One resident captured flames swallowing her Malibu neighborhood as she fled. Malibu and nearby Calabasas are under mandatory evacuation orders, and authorities have urged residents to be prepared for new blazes.

  • Daryl Osby:

    These are extreme conditions. If there's a fire in your neighborhood, do not wait for an evacuation order. Leave.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    Two new fires also broke out today near the Woolsey Fire, shutting down California Highway 118. With the flames only partially contained across the state, California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. He said these fires represent a new reality for the state, with longer and more devastating fire seasons to come.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    This is not the new normal. This is the new abnormal. And this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. And, unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they're going to intensify.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    He has requested federal funds to fight the fires and rebuild the damaged areas. Over the weekend, though, President Trump appeared to blame the state government's response to the fires.

    In a tweet, he wrote: "There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California, except that forest management is so poor."

    California recovered from a five-year drought two years ago, but conditions across the state remain dry and windy, ripe for wildfires. Authorities say the combination of drought, rising temperatures from climate change and the construction of homes deeper into forest areas will only make things worse.

    Gusty and low-humidity conditions are expected across the state through Tuesday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Mary MacCarthy joins us now.

    So, Mary, tell us exactly where you are right now, and give us a sense of the scene there.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    So, where I'm standing now, Judy, is a residential subdivision in Oak Park outside of Los Angeles, and what we're seeing here is what we're seeing, in fact, across the region, is that you have suburban homes built into these beautiful rolling hills that the region is known for.

    And the fire has come in and sort of skipped and jumped across the neighborhood, and you end up with scenes like this, a few homes scattered throughout the neighborhood that are entirely decimated, burned to the ground. A very difficult situation.

    Speaking to neighbors in this particular neighborhood, we learned that this, in fact, is the home of a firefighter. He was at home, in the neighborhood, putting out spot fires at homes around him when the fire broke out in his own home. Fortunately, he was able to grab his wife, their pets and get out on time to safety.

    At this point, he is out there with the thousands of other California firefighters fighting the blazes as we speak.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mary, you were talking, you told us, earlier today to the Red Cross that's helping with evacuation. What have they told you?

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    That's right.

    I was just at one of the evacuation centers, which, in fact, was set up at a local recreation center in the immediate emergency response. The first night, they had about 250 evacuees. They said those numbers have been going down slowly as people have been able to go their family's homes or the homes of loved ones.

    At this point, they're moving into phase two of the response, which is taking the evacuees still there, many of them senior citizens, and putting them into longer-term accommodations, in this case at California Lutheran University, which has offered a place where they have showers and more of those basic comforts that people need when they have been pushed out of their homes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mary, we know, in a terrible coincidence, this is right where there was a — that awful shooting at a bar and dance club in Thousand Oaks last week.

    They're really — they're dealing with a double tragedy.

  • Mary MacCarthy:

    Oh, it is

    Where I'm standing is very close to Thousand Oaks. There, a lot of the people have been able to evacuate. Some of the homes that have been destroyed were in Thousand Oaks. And there are reports among the families affected directly by the shooting either losing their loved ones or with people who are still in the hospital. They are in fact out of a home, a very difficult situation.

    Some of the funerals at this point have been postponed, so just an unimaginable situation for the residents of Thousand Oaks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We certainly wish them the very best.

    Mary McCarthy, thank you so much.

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