clock menu more-arrow no yes
Denise Chester, an evacuee of the Camp Fire, hugs her son as she volunteers sorting clothes at a makeshift shelter in Chico, California on November 14, 2018.
Noah Berger/AP Images

Photos: what California’s lethal wildfires look like on the ground

The Camp Fire is the deadliest wildfire in California history, and the toll is still expected to rise.

The day before the uncommonly deadly Camp Fire ignited near Chico, California, meteorologists were warning of unprecedented dryness from heat, winds, low humidity, and lack of precipitation. California was a tinderbox.

Since then, the monster fire has ripped through 148,000 acres, laid the town of Paradise (population 26,000) to waste, and destroyed more than 10,000 structures. This makes it the most destructive wildfire California has ever seen. Yet the human toll has been even more stunning: At least 71 people have died in the flames (with over 1,000 still unaccounted for), making it the single deadliest wildfire in state history.

The dry, windy conditions throughout California mean Southern California has also been at extreme risk for fires. On November 8, the Woolsey Fire sparked in Ventura County and then swept into Los Angeles County, torching a total of 98,300 acres and killing at least three.

Fire experts and climate scientists say the wildfires have certainly been made worse by climate change. “If Northern California had received anywhere near the typical amount of autumn precipitation this year (around 4-5 in. of rain near #CampFire point of origin), explosive fire behavior & stunning tragedy in #Paradise would almost certainly not have occurred,” climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter. And the long-term projections for future shifts in precipitation and heat are bleak: California likely has many more dangerous wildfires in store.

“[Wildfires] will be part of our future ... things like this, and worse,’’ Gov. Jerry Brown said at a Sunday press conference. “That’s why it’s so important to take steps to help communities, to do prevention and adaptation.”

Local news reporters, residents, photojournalists, and scientists have been sharing images from the ground on what was left in the fires’ wake. There will be a lot of healing and rebuilding to do after these tragedies. Here’s what the situation looks like on the ground.

Camp Fire

A rescue worker lifts a cadaver dog at the remains of a mobile home park destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California on November 14, 2018.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
San Francisco firefighters dismantle a burned mobile home in Paradise, California on November 14, 2018.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Gold Nugget Museum is shown totally demolished by the Camp Fire on November 13, 2018.
Martha Mendoza/AP Images
The San Francisco skyline is obscured by wildfire smoke and haze on November 12, 2018.
Eric Risberg/AP Images
A couple embraces while searching through the remains of their home in Paradise, California on November 12, 2018.
Noah Berger/AP Images
Smoke lingers through the valley near Skyway in Chico, California on November 11, 2018.
Mason Trinca/The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Camp Fire burns in the hills on November 11, 2018, near Oroville, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Power lines rest on cars that were burned by the Camp Fire on November 10, 2018 in Paradise, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County sheriff deputies carry a body bag with a deceased victim of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive blaze in California history. Long term drought and heat helped make the region ripe for ignition.
Yuba and Butte County sheriff deputies carry a body bag with a deceased victim of the Camp Fire on November 10, 2018, in Paradise, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A firefighter looks down as a the wall of a burning home in Paradise, California falls next to him on November 9, 2018.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A California Highway Patrol vehicle mans a checkpoint along Highway 32 as the Camp Fire burns in the area on November 9, 2018.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Woolsey Fire

A burned car is seen off Mulholland Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains on November 14, 2018.
David McNew/AFP/Getty Images
A section of Mulholland Highway was completely destroyed. Taken November 14, 2018.
David Crane/Digital First Media/Los Angeles Daily News/Getty Images
The Santa Monica Mountains are blackened by the Woolsey Fire near Malibu, California on November 14, 2018.
David McNew/AFP/Getty Images
Roger Kelton searches through the remains of his mother-in-law’s home in Agoura Hills, California on November 13, 2018.
Jae C. Hong/AP Images
A family returns to the remains of their home to find family photographs on Busch Drive in Malibu, California on November 13, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters work to contain the Woolsey Fire near Malibu, California on November 12, 2018.
Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto/Getty Images
A firefighting DC-10 drops fire retardant the mountains in Malibu, California on November 11, 2018.
Richard Vogel/AP Images
Firefighters battle a flare up of the Woolsey Fire in West Hills, California on November 11, 2018.
September Dawn Bottoms/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Satellite imagery shows the Woolsey Fire burning west of Los Angeles, California on November 11, 2018.
DigitalGlobe/Getty Images
These are the remains of a beachside luxury home along the Pacific Coast Highway community of Point Dume in Malibu, California, on November 11, 2018.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
This photo taken on November 11, 2018, shows a charred cactus field in Malibu, California after the Woolsey Fire swept through it.
September Dawn Bottoms/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
A helicopter drops flame retardant chemicals on the wildfire on November 10, 2018, in Malibu, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
A table and chairs stand outside a destroyed home in Malibu, California, on November 10, 2018.
Reed Saxon/AP Images
Embers falls from burning palms as flames close in on a house at the Woolsey Fire on November 9, 2018, in Malibu, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Down to Earth

Fake rhino horns were supposed to foil poachers. What went wrong?

Energy & Environment

Joe Manchin won’t support a key climate program. Alternatives won’t be enough.

Energy & Environment

The myth of the climate moderate

View all stories in Energy & Environment

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.