First Calif. wildfire death confirmed as firefighters try to contain blazes

In a pattern repeated throughout the neighborhood, homes that remained unscathed stand next to homes that were destroyed during the Thomas fire in the Arroyo Verde Park section of Ventura, California, on December 8, 2017. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

Dec. 9 (UPI) — Officials have confirmed the first death related to a number of wildfires raging across Southern California this week.

Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead Wednesday night at a car crash site along an evacuation route northeast of Ventura. Ventury County Medical Examiner Christopher Young confirmed Pesola’s death Friday in a news release obtained by the Ventura County Star.

“This tragic death is the only confirmed fire-related death in Ventura County to date,” Young said. “After evacuation of Wheeler Canyon, a missing person was reported. Human remains were identified at a vehicular crash site along the evacuation route. … The death involved a traffic incident during active fire evacuation. The cause of death is blunt force injuries with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.”

The Thomas fire in Ventura County is currently the largest blaze in Southern California. At 10 percent contained Friday night, it spread 143,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. In Los Angeles County, the Rye and Creek fires spanned nearly 22,000 acres combined, the agency said. The Rye fire was 50 percent contained and the Creek fire was 70 percent contained. The Skirball fire, also in Los Angeles County, stood at 475 acres, with 50 percent containment, on Friday evening, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

In San Diego County, the Lilac fire spanned 4,100 acres and was 15 percent contained Friday night. The Liberty fire in Riverside County, between San Diego and Los Angeles, was at 300 acres and 90 percent contained Friday night, the city of Murrieta said.

Altogether, the fires have destroyed more than 500 buildings and forced 212,000 Californians to evacuate their homes, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Strong winds that were prevalent earlier in the week calmed down Friday, giving firefighters the chance to better contain the blazes.


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