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Home / US / Paradise Lost: In the campfire of California – 60 minutes

Paradise Lost: In the campfire of California – 60 minutes



On the morning of November 8, a huge wildfire ripped through California mountain communities north of Sacramento. Because it started near Camp Creek Road, it was called "The Camp Fire." The cause is still being investigated. But within hours she devoured the city of Paradise with 27,000 inhabitants. About 95 percent of Paradise was lost; His smaller neighbors, Concow and Magalia, were almost all destroyed.

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<p>  So far, the forest fires in California's wine country have been the worst ever recorded in the state last year, and the Federal Climate Report published last month warns that extreme heat and drought conditions will lead to future forest fires Worse, tonight we'll get you into the campfire and show you what the firefighters saw, and this video and the destruction made us wonder how something worse could be. </p>
<p>  This is paradise or what's left of that ashen block Burnt houses and destroyed lives: Three weeks ago children were playing here, people were shopping here and families were praying here, the wild fire that raged through paradise was just as accidental as it was merciless In some terrifying hours, about 90 people died and nearly 19,000 buildings, shops and houses were destroyed in the heart of Butte County. On the morning of November 8, County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea woke up to see an ominous glow. He knew it was a fire and it was approaching him. </p>
<p>  Bill Whitaker: When did you first realize in the morning that you had to evacuate the whole city? </p>
<p>  Sheriff Kory Honea: I think the best way I can characterize is – it has surpassed us before We even knew that we were in a race or in which direction the race would take us. It was dark. It seemed as if it was night, because the smoke had blocked the sun. Ash and embers rained. And as the fire approached, you had the feeling that it was hell on earth. </p><div><script async src=

The sheriff quickly mobilized his deputies. Firefighters ran to defend the city, but they were overwhelmed. The fire was too fast and too big.

The Strike Team 9231C drove straight to the inferno. The crew shot this video from the truck. Captain John Jessen was at the wheel. He told us that he had seen many forest fires during his 24 years as a firefighter in the state of California, but all pale in comparison.

Bill Whitaker: What made this whole thing so different?

John Jessen: The fire front that came up the canyon was literally miles long and had a flame length of 200 feet. It's hard to describe how fast this fire moved.

Inhabitants fleeing the vortex had turned all paths out of paradise into blocked death traps. The strike team got stuck in the traffic jam.

People panicked their cars. The representative of a sheriff held the mess on his body camera. Four people made their way to the truck of the strike team, including Eva Walker.

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<p>  Bill Whitaker: What was the fire doing at this point? </p>
<p>  Eva Walker: The bushes burned down. The trees were burning. So you move away from the flames. But there is no place to turn to. </p>
<p>  She thought she was saved when the strike team pulled her into the truck. Captain Jessen was desperately calling for air support, but the smoke was too thick, the wind too strong to help from above. Firefighter Casey Peck began to pray softly. </p>
<p>  Casey Peck: I just thought of myself and prayed like, "Please, Lord, have mercy and … watch over us, watch over our families." </p>
<p>  Bill Whitaker: You prayed for your life? </p>
<p>  Casey Peck: Yes. </p>
<p>  At that moment two lights appeared through the darkness. A fireman driving a bulldozer responded to Jessi's call for help and started evacuating an escape route. <strong> </strong> </p><div><script async src=

Eva Walker: And suddenly the bulldozer I swear to God, an angel who came through. I do not know where this man came from. I mean, who does that? Who goes to the flames?

Bill Whitaker: You called him an angel?

Eva Walker: Called him an angel. He saved us all.

Her angel was bulldozer driver Joe Kennedy.

Joe Kennedy: So I took the burning cars and pushed them away from the people and the cars that were not on fire.

Sam Layton was behind Kennedy in another fire truck. Both opened their doors to let people in. Sam Layton: It was a blessing and a curse to go to that fire. But I am happy that I was there to help people.

Layton, Kennedy and the strike team took nine civilians to safety. Then turned around, went back inside and saved more.

Joe Kennedy: There are points that you are afraid of or think, "I should not have gotten so far into the fire." But at the same time, you have to keep going because life and property are at stake.

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CBS News

Sheriff Kory Honea: We were in a situation where there were not enough fire engines and there were not enough police officers.

Bill Whitaker: The resources that have all been overwhelmed by this fire?

Sheriff Kory Honea: Absolutely.

Bill Whitaker: How would you describe this fire?

Ken Pimlott: Apocalyptic.

With this new tool, Ken Pimlott, head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety, showed us how fast the campfire is spreading. Computer-aided projections on this 3D map show the course of the fire.

Bill Whitaker: Where did the fire begin?

Ken Pimlott: The fire started on 8 November at 6:30 in the Pulga community. And it was quickly accelerated by 40 miles per hour of wind from the north.

Bill Whitaker: Look at that.

Ken Pimlott: Yes. At that time, the fire grew at a speed of one football pitch per second. One morning for a second.

Bill Whitaker: A soccer field a second.

Ken Pimlott: Yes. Within two hours, the fire will affect the community of paradise. It took 12 hours to do everything in record time.

Bill Whitaker: How many acres in total?

Ken Pimlott: 153,300 hectares.

Bill Whitaker: Wow. What's happening? Everyone says that this is the new normal.

Ken Pimlott: We now see fires of this kind every year that are getting more and more extreme. We had five years of drought. The vegetation is just – it is critically dried up. Our temperatures, the average temperature in the state, are rising. So these are all factors that are just a combination of things that lead to extreme events.

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CBS News

The same day that the Wildfire destroyed Paradise, the Woolsey fire in Southern California broke out. The flame-hit flames killed three people, destroyed 1,500 buildings and burned more than 90,000 hectares in and around Malibu. The brown, fire-painted terrain can be seen from space.

Bill Whitaker: Californians need to learn to live with such fires?

Ken Pimlott: These fires show no signs of failure. There is no reason for them to stop on the basis of the conditions we see.

As sheriff, Kory Honea coordinates the reaction of law enforcement agencies in paradise.

As a medical examiner, he searched for the remains of every building burned in the fire. Immediately after the fire there were nearly 1,300 unknowns. This number has dropped to 25.

Bill Whitaker: How do you review each site?

Sheriff Kory Honea: It's unparalleled. We've used California search and rescue teams, coroner-forensic anthropologists, to see if we can tell if there are any human remains left. And if so, then of course we want to bring them back and do what is necessary to return those remnants of the family. Bill Whitaker: Can you tell me what the search team is doing behind us? Sheriff Kory.

Honea: Because this fire burned so hot and intense, these remains are often completely or almost completely consumed. And so these people are looking for bones or bone fragments, so we have an anthropologist here to help them identify them.

Carefully search crews and volunteer anthropologists and medical examiners for ashes and debris as if they were standing on an archaeological dig. In bathrooms, front doors, terraces, places, people seek shelter or are trapped. It was a detailed, sacred work. Residues were removed in blue body bags. Some, the charred fragments, fit in brown paper bags. All body bags were taken to the morgue in Sacramento.

Bill Whitaker: So, if you got these remains, how are you trying to find out who the victim is?

Sheriff Kory Honea: Early on – we were able to use some of the more traditional methods of identifying human remains – including fingerprints – tooth records, things of that nature. And– we'll continue where that's possible. But at this point, we have to rely primarily on DNA analysis.

Mass casualties with disasters usually take months to identify with DNA. The sheriff turned to a new, rapid DNA identification technology. It was used here for the first time in a disaster zone. The inventor Richard Selden says he can detect remnants in a few hours.

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<p>  Bill Whitaker: These victims were burned. How much material do you need to analyze to find a match? </p>
<p>  Dr. Richard Selden: Just a cotton swab, a Q-tip rubbed against the right tissue, or a small piece of bone – sometimes a small fragment of muscle or liver, this very small fragment – would allow us to get it. the DNA ID and in– in many, many cases solve the case, make the identification. </p>
<p>  Bill Whitaker: Did you fear or fear that you might not be able to get material to identify people? </p>
<p>  Dr. Richard Selden: I was shocked when I saw the first remains. The kind of samples I've worked on was pretty sure it would not work. I said to our technical team, "Let's do it anyway, 5% chance." And the first eight rehearsals worked perfectly. </p>
<p>  Selden opened a shop in a rented RV in the parking lot of the examining magistrate. He took a process that once required a whole lab and shrank onto a piece of plastic. Swabs of body tissue or bone are placed in the so-called chip, where DNA is purified and separated. The results are compared with DNA samples from relatives. By the end of last week, 41 victims had been identified, 31 of them with fast DNA. </p>
<p>  Bill Whitaker: Has the technology been promised? </p><div><script async src=

Sheriff Kory Honea: We have been very pleased with the technology, not only in its ability to confirm identities, but also in the speed with which it can. The longer this process is – the worse it is for the family in my opinion.

78-year-old Marie Wehe lived alone in the deep forests outside Paradise. Her children Bonnie and Tommy and his wife Lisa last heard of Marie in the night.

Bonnie Wehe: She said, "I love you." And I love you too. "(CRIES) I have not spoken to her since.

They searched for 12 days and hoped to find Marie in a shelter, hearing that the sheriff was encouraging relatives of those missing, DNA samples Five days after Bonnie and Tommy dropped their mark, a match was made and their mother's remains were found in her truck not far from her home.

Bill Whitaker: What does it know – [19659004] Bonnie Wehe: W– us –

Bill Whitaker: – Doing it for you?

Lisa Wehe: – Knowing it was found 19659004] Tommy Wehe: It's on the road to recovery, I do not know whether you can ever say that we will ever recover from it, but it gives us the certainty that we can try it –

Bonnie Wehe: But she was found.

Tommy Wehe: – for a closure and that we found them.

Bonnie Wehe: Yes

Lisa Wehe: She will not be missed forever

Tommy Wehe: No.

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The campfire destroyed almost everything in paradise. After such fires, nature can recover. The question is: can paradise?

Sheriff Kory Honea: On the morning of November 8, there was a thriving community. And in a few hours it's gone, it's gone.

Bill Whitaker: How do you recover from something like that?

Sheriff Kory Honea: If that happens, I'll let you know. But we have a long way to go.

Produced by Marc Lieberman and Ali Rawaf. Associate producers, LaCrai Mitchell and Lucy Hatcher.


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