More than 1,300 people are missing and 76 declared dead as fires continue to burn across California.
The devastating fires have raged in both the southern and northern ends of the state for more than a week now, with thousands of homes destroyed and entire towns wiped off the map.
Northern California’s Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and torched 603 square kilometres, while the Woolsley Fire in the south has claimed 392km/2 and more than 1,000 buildings.
The majority of the deaths come from the once-idyllic town of Paradise in the state’s north that has now been reduced to charred rubble and ash. Residents in the retiree-populated town were quickly trapped by the fast-moving fire as it zeroed in on the area and destroyed everything in its path.
Harrowing stories of escape have been shared across social media and news organisations, detailing acts of heroism and tragedy.
Locals recounted picking up strangers on the road who were fleeing on foot as the fire closed in around them, while others recalled piling animals into their cars to drive them to safety.
One man shared a photo of his car that he used to ferry people out of Paradise. The side doors were almost burned through at the bottom and the side mirrors and lights melted from the intense heat of the inferno.
Here's my @toyotausa commercial. This truck literally saved my life today. My little town of Paradise was literally burning down around me and @the_pandra got me to safety where I could help others…twice. #campfire #perfectmarshmellow #meltedplastics #buttecountyfire#sema2019 thanks to the fire fighters, law enforcement and my fellow healthcare workers for the work we all did getting the hospital evacuated and our patients to safety. ????????????
US President Donald Trump visisted California at the weekend to see the devastation first hand and promised to provide federal government assistance to help with the recovery and clean-up effort.
“This is very sad,” Trump said after visiting the remains of Paradise.
“They’re telling me this is not as bad as some areas; some areas are even beyond this, they’re just charred.
The president issued major disaster and emergency declarations to provide support to locals by way of housing and loans to help residents get back on their feet, as well as equipment to fight the remaining blaze.
“We will do everything in our power to support and protect our fellow citizens in harm’s way,” he said.
Firefighters are expecting some relief this week with rain forecast across the state on Wednesday, but before then they’ll have to reckon with strong 80km/ph winds on Sunday night and into Monday, which will make wrangling the blazes difficult and could only help the infernos spread.
Authorities also say that while the rain will help dampen the remaining flames, it will make the search effort for human remains more difficult.
For surviving residents, the rain will hopefully help quell the new crisis gripping the state: smoke.
As locals come to grips with the aftermath of the disaster, they’re being warned to beware of thick smoke blanketing the region and causing breathing issues. Air quality across the state has plummeted over the past week and according to CNN, San Francisco, Stockton and Sacramento were the world’s three “most polluted cities” on Friday morning.
Most schools in those cities were closed on Friday and face masks have been distributed for free to anyone who wants them.