Hollywood celebrities have seen their homes multimillion dollar Malibu mansions by flames, while crews scouring debris from another wildfire hundreds of kilometres away have found six more bodies.
The Southern California seaside enclave of Malibu was in jeopardy on Sunday as walls of flames powered by 85 km/h winds raced west through the Santa Monica Mountains toward the Pacific coastline, destroying multimillion dollar mansions.
“Winds are already blowing,” Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said, urging residents to evacuate. “They are going to blow for the next three days. Your house can be rebuilt but you can’t bring your life back.”
Meanwhile in Northern California, teams searching the charred ruins of the town of Paradise found five bodies at a home and one in a vehicle, raising the death toll to 29 and making it the deadliest wildfire on record in California history.
Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea said that 228 people remained unaccounted for since the fire mostly incinerated the foothill town of 27,000 people on Thursday.
Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighbourhood.
“I’m also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother’s somewhere and you don’t know where she’s at,” he said. “You don’t know if she’s safe.”
He ran across a few of his mother’s neighbours, but no one had seen her.
The entire nearby city of Calabasas, home to more than 20,000 people, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order by city officials on Sunday evening.
Around Malibu, more than 3000 firefighters from around California and neighbouring US states worked with aircraft, including 19 helicopters and three DC-10 tanker plane, to save lives and billions of dollars of property.
The Woolsey fire has destroyed more than 170 homes and killed two people, putting the total death toll from the wildfires at 31.
Neighbouring suburbs including Thousand Oaks, still reeling from last week’s shooting massacre that left 11 bar patrons and a sheriff’s sergeant dead, have been under mandatory evacuation for three days.
The area is popular with Australian expatriates.
“We didn’t sleep on Thursday night and watched the hill opposite us burn on Friday,” Australian multimedia journalist Andrew Warne, who has remained at his home in Agoura Hills, told AAP.
“We live next to a lake and have the firefighting choppers continuously flying in to refill before flying back to the fires.”
More than 34,000 hectares of land have burned and 177 houses been destroyed, including the multimillion dollar homes of action star Gerard Butler, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reality TV star Camille Grammer Meyer and musician Robin Thicke and girlfriend April Love Geary.
The historic Paramount Ranch, where the TV series Westworld and other iconic series and films have been shot since 1927, was destroyed and the Malibu mansion used in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette reality TV shows has reportedly been damaged.