September 12, 2020 | 10:27am | Updated September 12, 2020 | 1:13pm
A ship passes beneath the Bay Bridge as smoke from various wildfires burning across Northern California blankets the sky with an orange glow.
Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
The smoke that caused the skies of Northern California to turn an apocalyptic orange earlier this week actually helped crews contain the region’s massive wildfires by blocking the scorching sun and cooling the air.
But death and devastation lie beneath the ashes.
The state’s wildfire-fighting agency, CalFire, said the enormous blaze so far torched 252,500 acres, and was just 23% contained as of late Friday. It’s one of 28 major wildfires burning across the state.
The North Complex inferno, which formed when three fires started during a lightning storm last month combined, has killed at least nine people, including a 16-year-old boy. That toll was reduced by one Friday after officials learned that remains found in a burned storage shed were a model skeleton used by an anthropology student.
The massive fire has reduced the tiny hamlet of Berry Creek in the rugged Sierra Nevada foothills to smoldering ash. The community was home to just 525 residents, including 16-year-old Josiah Williams. He died trying to escape in a vehicle.
At least 19 people remain missing. Search crews were heading to the rugged region, but some areas were still too dangerous to immediately begin work. “Right now, the areas that we need to search are too hot,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. Residents are not yet allowed to return to see if their homes survived.
The charred remains of a boat and vehicle burned by the Bear fire in Berry Creek, California.
Flames fly above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, California.
Embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, California.
Butte County Animal Control officer Linda Newman prepares to load two donkeys that were found wandering along a roadside in Berry Creek, California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to the media after he toured the North Complex Fire zone yesterday.
Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee via AP
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President Trump is expected to visit the region on Monday, Fox 11 Los Angeles reported. He’s expected to go to a park in Sacramento County, which has served as a base for CalFire operations.
Touring the area on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom railed about climate change. “I’m exhausted that we have to continue to debate this,” Newsom said, the East Bay Times reported. “This is happening. It’s happening in unprecedented ways. Year in, year out. You can exhaust yourself with your ideological B.S. … but the reality here is the mega-fires that we’re experiencing come from these mega-droughts that we’re experiencing.”
Through Aug. 30, at least 5,924 wildfires had burned 3.1 million acres in California. Five of this year’s fires are already among the top 20 largest fires since records started being kept in 1932, and fire season often gets worse in the fall.