Paradise, United States, Nov 10 – As firefighters battled the devastating California wildlfires for a seventh day on Wednesday incredible tales were emerging of courage and survival.
A family of four submerged themselves in a chilly mountain reservoir with several of their neighbors to escape the flames.
An unknown man is being credited with saving lives by using a bulldozer to clear clogged roads of burning cars and allow people to escape to safety.
At least 50 deaths have been reported so far from the deadliest wildfires in California’s recent history and with hundreds of people unaccounted for the toll is expected to rise.
Body recovery teams with sniffer dogs were performing a grim house-to-house search on Wednesday in Paradise, a community of around 26,000 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains which was devastated by the inferno.
Forty-eight deaths have been reported from the “Camp Fire” in and around Paradise while two people have died in another massive blaze, the “Woolsey Fire” north of Los Angeles.
A man who asked to be identified by only his first name, Scott, told the San Francisco Chronicle that when the “Camp Fire” surrounded his home in Concow in Butte County he and his family plunged into a reservoir along with a 90-year-old neighbor, Bruno.
“Bruno was saying, ‘Just leave me. I can’t do this,’” Scott, 51, told the newspaper. “I said, ‘Bruno, we’re not going to leave you. And I’m not going to burn, so you better hurry.’”
They remained in the cold water as flames licked the shore and made their way to a small island in the reservoir after finding a pair of rowboats.
Scott told the Chronicle it was so cold in the water that he waded back towards the fire on the shore at several points to warm up.
– ‘Bulldozer comes out of nowhere’ –
After one of Scott’s sons went looking for help, Scott’s family and Bruno — who was suffering from hypothermia — were taken in by another family whose house had escaped unscathed.
Allyn Pierce, a nurse in Paradise, told The New York Times and CNN how his life was saved by a bulldozer driver as he fled the town in his pickup truck along with other residents on Thursday.
Pierce said cars were catching fire around him and he dictated a goodbye message to his family, expecting his vehicle to catch fire next.
“I stayed calm but I was terrified,” Pierce said.
“Then all of a sudden this bulldozer comes out of nowhere and knocks this burning truck out of the way,” he said.
Instead of fleeing to safety, however, Pierce turned around and went back to the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, where he works as an intensive care nurse, and helped evacuate patients to the hospital’s helipad.
Pierce displayed pictures of his Toyota pickup truck which he said was still working despite lights which had melted and a rear passenger door which had been welded shut by the heat from the fire.
The “Camp Fire,” which erupted on Thursday, has ravaged 135,000 acres (54,632 hectares) of land and is 35 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
It has destroyed some 7,600 homes and 260 commercial properties. Battling the blaze are more than 5,600 fire personnel, some from as far away as Washington state and Texas.
The “Woolsey Fire,” which also began on Thursday, has razed 97,620 acres (39,505 hectares) and has been 47 percent contained.
Cal Fire said more than 3,500 fire personnel were battling the “Woolsey Fire,” which has destroyed the Malibu homes of several celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, Robin Thicke, Shannen Doherty and Gerard Butler.
The “Woolsey Fire” has burned down 435 structures including the 100-year-old Paramount Ranch where HBO’s “Westworld” and other popular television shows and movies were filmed.
The fires have forced a quarter of a million people to flee their homes and seven evacuation shelters have been set up in Butte County, three of which are already full, according to the authorities.
– Major disaster –
On Monday, President Donald Trump — at the request of state authorities — declared that a “major disaster” exists in California.
The declaration provides for federal assistance to aid state firefighting and recovery efforts in the counties of Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles.
Trump had earlier earned the ire of state officials with a claim that “gross mismanagement” of forestry in the state was responsible for the damage.
California Governor Jerry Brown said he expects the fires could be worse in the years to come.
“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that the dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” Brown said.