Hundreds Missing, Dozens Dead in California Wildfires

The latest news from the California wildfires has hundreds of people still missing and over 80 confirmed dead, after the devastating California Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire swept through the large portions of the state. Searchers are combing through areas to find and identify anyone they can. As the death toll continues to grow, experts say the Camp Fire is the most destructive wildfire in California history.

Camp Fire Possibly Caused by Utility Equipment 

Early reports indicate the Camp Fire (also known as the Butte County Fire and the Paradise Fire) may have been started by equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). Just a day before the Camp Fire started, the utility sent a resident of Pulga, Betsy Ann Cowley, an email alert that crews needed access to her property to deal with power lines that emitted sparks.

On Thursday, November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire started near that same area. Dispatchers at 911 received the first call about the Butte County fire at 6:33 a.m. that day and firefighters were on the scene 10 minutes later. Thanks to extremely dry conditions and high, hot winds, the responders warned that the fire could quickly become a "major incident."

The fire quickly spread, becoming the most devastating in California's history both in terms of lives lost and structures damaged. Forest areas the size of a football field burned every second and within five hours, the fire was up to 1,000 acres. By the next morning, more than 70,000 acres were burned, and Paradise had been demolished.

As of November 25, 2018, officials declared 85 people dead, with over 200 still unaccounted for. Meanwhile, more than 13,000 homes have burned and over 150,000 acres destroyed in the fire. Officials hope many of those people who are not accounted for are at shelters or do not have access to phones after escaping the area. Many may not be aware they've been reported missing. It could, however, be months before final fatality numbers are issued, and there is a possibility the remains of some victims will never be found.  

"It is overwhelming, I don't have any word to describe it," Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea told CNN. "This is unprecedented. No one has had to deal with this magnitude that caused so much destruction and regrettably so much death."

Honea told The New York Times that in some cases, all rescuers have found of people's remains are bone fragments. Some officials predict that the number of fatalities could rise into the hundreds as more bodies are located, with searchers expecting to continue looking for remains until spring of 2019.

Given the extent of the damage, even people whose homes have not been destroyed may not be able to go home for a long time.

Woolsey Fire Devastates Southern California 

While the Camp Fire burned in Butte County, the Woolsey Fire devastated Southern California, killing three people and destroying 1,500 structures. The Woolsey Fire (also called the Malibu Fire), in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, burned almost 97,000 acres. Like the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire started on November 8 and forced more than 250,000 people to evacuate. 

Reports suggest the fire may have started after an issue with Southern California Edison's Chatsworth substation. Two minutes before the first reports of the Woolsey Canyon fire, Southern California Edison reported an outage at that substation. Officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are investigating what caused the Woolsey Fire.

Residents Help Each Other Flee Flames Across California 

In addition to the countless firefighters and responders who have worked tirelessly to stop or slow the fire and save lives, other heroes have stepped in to help out their fellow residents—and to rescue beloved pets that were left behind as people fled.

A bus driver, Kevin McKay, drove a school bus with 22 children and two teachers to safety, driving for five hours before they could get away from the Paradise fire. Those children's parents had not made it to the school when the evacuation was issued, so the children were loaded on the bus. The teachers tore up McKay's shirt and covered it in water so students could breathe.

When 93-year-old Margaret Newsum left her Magalia home with only her medicine, vital supplies, and a walker, she was rescued by Dane Ray Cummings, who drove a garbage truck and stopped to help her. 

Animal lovers have stepped in to help the thousands of animals that the fires displaced. Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control has 700 animals in its care. Included in those 700 animals are more than 500 horses, 9 cows, and a tortoise. Allison Cardona, the agency's deputy director of operations, said at least 10,000 more pets are in need of help thanks to the Woolsey Fire and Camp Fire.

"It's hard to wrap your head around what a disaster this is—for people and animals," Cardona said to NBC News. "Anything that impacts people, impacts their animals."
Animal rescue agencies and shelters took in horses, cows, birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, and chickens since the fire started, while other individuals have also taken in displaced animals. Dan Sauvageau, who has a large truck and livestock trailer, spent days picking up dogs and cats who needed rescue.

Lawyers Investigate Utility Companies Over California Wildfires 

Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman of Los Angeles, has brought together a highly experienced team of lawyers to protect the rights of people impacted by the Woolsey and Camp Fires.
Leading the team are Diane Marger Moore and Ronald L. M. Goldman both Board Certified by the prestigious National Board of Trial Advocacy as Civil Trial Advocates and Civil Pretrial Practice Advocates. Diane Marger Moore is one of the most experienced fire trial lawyers in the country, with 40+ years of experience. Ronald Goldman, has over 50 years of experience handling catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases.
Michael L. Baum, a Malibu resident displaced by the Woolsey fire and our firm’s managing partner, has litigated thousands of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including the Dupont Plaza Hotel fire in Puerto Rico.
We are also working with renowned environmental attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and fire-impacted resident and respected trial lawyer, Brian R. Strange. Baum Hedlund has also called upon expert certified fire investigators Michael Vergon and James Finneran to assist in the investigation of the entities responsible for causing these deadly fires. Both Mr. Vergon and Mr. Finneran have many years of experience investigating the origin and causes of fires, particularly those caused by electrical sources.