The death toll from wildfires ravaging both ends of California has risen to 25 and more than 100 are still missing as wildfires continue to burn out of control.
Hollywood celebrities, Australians and hundreds of thousands of residents in some of Los Angeles’ most exclusive suburbs are bracing themselves as firefighters launch a massive attack on multiple blazes.
The so-called Camp Fire leveled nearly the entire city of Paradise, destroying more than 6,700 structures, almost all of them homes. It is considered the most destructive fire in state history.
The 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.
More than 3000 fire fighters from around California and neighbouring US states worked with aircraft, including 19 helicopters and three DC-10 tanker planes, to save lives and billions of dollars of property.
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.
“Sad we lost our home but grateful that my family is safe,” Meyer wrote in an Instagram post.
“Luckily we quickly evacuated our house yesterday after a patrol car drove up the street announcing mandatory evacuations.”
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.
The extreme fire conditions are expected to remain until Tuesday when the strong Santa Ana winds are forecast to finally ease.
In Northern California the death toll of Thursday’s horrific wildfire that swept through the town of Paradise rose to 25 after the discovery of several more bodies.
The toll is expected to grow and become the most deadliest in California’s history with scores more residents missing.
It is already the most destructive fire in the state’s history, destroying 6400 homes and 260 commercial buildings in less than 24 hours.
At least five teams were searching for bodies in the smoking ruins of Paradise, while relatives were scouring evacuation centres and hospitals in the hopes of finding survivors.
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.
AAP, ABC US with Associated Press