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At least 11 deaths suspected in California wildfires, as winds set to pick back up

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By Phil Helsel

LOS ANGELES — A huge California wildfire burning near Los Angeles doubled in size by Saturday, and officials said two people were found dead in the fire zone, bringing the deaths suspected in several large blazes in the state to at least 11.

The two people who were found dead in the area of the so-called Woolsey Fire are being treated as fire-related deaths at this time but an investigation is ongoing, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Chief John Benedict said. That fire has prompted evacuation orders affecting some 200,000 people and destroyed what is estimated to be many homes.

“Last night was a tough night,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference. “As the fire jumped the 101 [freeway] and ran into Malibu it was quite a fight.”

“But what I can say is again your first responders, your law enforcement officers, your firefighters made heroic efforts in saving lives and protecting property,” he said.

The fires have been fueled by high winds, officials said. There was a lull in the winds in the Southern California areas on Saturday, but hot, dry Santa Ana winds are forecast to resume on Sunday, Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow said. “Red flag warnings” were in place across much of the state Saturday.

More than 250,000 people in California were under evacuation orders from three blazes — the Woolsey Fire burning northwest of Los Angeles, the so-called Camp Fire in Butte County, and the Hill Fire, also in Ventura County, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The town of Paradise, population 26,000, north of Sacramento was devastated, with the town’s mayor estimating that 80 to 90 percent of homes have been destroyed.

At least nine people have been killed in that fire, which broke out Thursday morning, including five people whose cars were overcome by the flames, officials said. The fire, which has burned around 100,000 acres, was 20 percent contained Saturday.

Marilyn Pelletier got a knock on her door in Paradise and was told she had five minutes to leave. She grabbed her medicine bag and her small dog, and when she left “the whole sky was pink.”

Image: CORRECTION-us-fire-weather-US-FIRE-WEATHER
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department chaplain Pastor Brian La Spade walks through properties in the Points Dume neighborhood of Malibu, California, where members of his congregation live, on Nov. 10, 2018, after the Woolsey Fire tore through the neighborhood overnight.Robyn Beck / AFP – Getty Images

“You could see the fire coming,” she said. “It was devastating. It’s horrible. The worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was just — I’m grateful I got out with my life.”

Pelletier moved to Paradise two years ago after her husband passed away, and bought a house in the town which was destroyed in the fire, she said.

“It’s a beautiful home — it was. It was real pretty,” Pelletier said. “I’m devastated. I’m heartbroken, I’m alone, I’m scared.”

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