California wildfires: At least 42 killed in deadly blaze

A firefighter battles a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Picture; AP
A firefighter battles a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Picture; AP
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Authorities have reported 13 more fatalities from a blaze in Northern California that destroyed a town, bringing the total death toll so far to 42 and making it the deadliest wildfire in recorded state history.

The dead have been found in burned-out cars, in the smoldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could jump in behind the wheel and escape.

In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner’s investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them. The search for bodies was continuing.

Hundreds of people were unaccounted for by the sheriff’s reckoning, four days after the fire swept over the town of 27,000 with flames so fierce that authorities brought in a mobile DNA lab and forensic anthropologists to help identify the dead.

The statewide death toll from wildfires over the past week has reached 44.

A 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles killed 29 people, and a series of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country last fall killed 44 people.

Authorities picking their way through burned-out neighborhoods say a Southern California wildfire has now destroyed at least 435 buildings, most of them homes.

The new figures released Monday evening come as a wildfire continues to burn its way through scenic but drought-stricken canyonlands in and around Malibu, where celebrity homes have burned along with modest mobile homes.

Fire officials say the immense fire, which stretches from north of Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, is only 30 percent contained - although that is significant progress from only a few days earlier.

Fire crews also had to stamp out two new smaller fires.

Thousands of homes are still at risk, and forecasters expect gusty Santa Ana winds that drove the flames to continue into Wednesday.