The deadliest fire in California’s history continues to claim lives and wreak havoc across vast swathes the West Coast state. So far, at least 56 people have lost their lives in the blaze, with some 130 still missing. Roughly 9,000 firefighters are attempting to curtail numerous fires across the state, with the largest “Camp Fire” being located in the North.
The director of California’s fire service said “progress is being made” in its war against the flames, but as of Wednesday, the blaze is still just 35% contained. The epicenter of the fire was in the town of Paradise, which has been utterly destroyed by the raging inferno; town officials have estimated that rebuilding the area is likely to take several years. But despite estimates that an incredible 80-90% of Paradise neighborhoods were destroyed in the fire, the town’s mayor remains hopeful for the future.
“We’re gonna come back, we’re gonna rebuild. We’re gonna make Paradise Paradise again,” said Mayor Jody Jones of her devastated community.
There is no doubt that Paradise has a future, but right now, residents of this quiet town are utterly shellshocked at the sheer devastation that surrounds them on all sides.
“This had to be one of the most surreal experience I’ve ever had,” Cal Fire firefighter Josh Smario, 23, told PEOPLE. “Standing in what used to be my house while I’m working to save the town I live in. The house I thought my son would experience his first years of his life in. Then hopping right back in the engine to go fight the blaze that took my house and my grandparents’ house.”
“It wiped out all of my family’s houses, but thank God they all made it out safe,” Smario added. “It’s a war zone. When you saw how many bodies didn’t make it out, I could care less about the things that were lost.”
Among the dead was a two-time cancer survivor, 65-year-old Ernest Foss. Despite having fought off the ghastly disease on two occasions, the effects of his battle had left him bedbound. His body was discovered outside his home. Foss was a talented musician who moved to Paradise from San Fransico around eight years ago. “I love that he shared his gift of music with me and so many others during his lifetime,” said his daugther Angela Loo, according to Sky News.
The bio on Ernest’s Facebook read: “Former S.F. Rock and Studio Musician Disabled, Lymphedema, Cancer survivor x2 Educator, Bedbound, Dad.”
Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea said that 461 people and 22 cadaver dogs are sifting through the town’s ashes, according to CNN. “We’re moving as fast as we can. It will take as long as it takes,” Honea added on the timescale of the desperate search. “It’s an important thing that we get right. And I understand the issue (of residents wanting to return to their properties), and I’m balancing the competing interests.”
Just spoke to Governor Jerry Brown to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2018
“Paradise had done a lot of pre-planning for just this kind of an emergency but the fire of course was unprecedented, overwhelming and so a lot of people got caught,” said California’s governor, Jerry Brown, following the tragic loss of life.
— Jarrett M. Barnett (@jarrettbarnett) November 10, 2018
The damage is absolutely staggering, with one of the town’s two elementary schools completely destroyed by the flames.
#striketeam 2870C driving through #paradise en-route to their assignment. #campfire #redflag #extremefiredanger @…
Many residents have blamed Butte County leaders for their sluggishness in declaring an emergency and issuing evacuation notices to the town’s population, which is numbered at around 25,000.
“An additional 8 human remains were recovered, that brings the total up to 56. All 8 of those human remains were found in the Paradise area,” says official of the death toll from the CA Camp fire. https://t.co/lt5i9SiHrQ pic.twitter.com/UgTo6sImhk
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 15, 2018
“They definitely didn’t do enough,” said Christina Taft, whose elderly mother has been missing since the fire broke out. “She didn’t expect it to be that bad. She expected someone would be calling, or something, if it got bad. But they didn’t.”
— Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) November 15, 2018
“They were negligent,” Taft added to NBC News. “They just let them go. There is a reason all these people are dead.”
In Southern California, crews continue to battle the Woolsey Fire, which has already claimed at least two lives. The fire has scorched almost 100,000 acres of land, and is 52% contained.
Do continue to pray for all those who are recovering from this horrific fire.