A firefighter looks for hot spots in Malibu, California. More than 3 000 emergency personnel have been battling the blazes in the county’s most destructive fire on record. Reuters
Sheriff’s investigators have begun the task of scouring through the wreckage of California’s most destructive fire on record in search of the dead. The death toll had reached at least 25.

The entire town of Paradise was wiped out and yesterday, hot and dry “devil winds” kicked up in fire-ravaged Southern California. The county was bringing in a fifth search and recovery team. An anthropology team from California State University was also assisting, because in some cases “the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments”.

The victims have not been identified, but the department has a roster of 110 people believed missing. Officials hope many of the elderly on the list are simply without cellphones to contact loved ones. The agency was also bringing in a mobile DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in the identification process.

The death toll made the Camp Fire the third-deadliest on record in the state, another statistic for a blaze now logged at 425 square kilometres that has cost at least $8.1million (R116m) to fight so far, said Steve Kaufmann, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Entire neighbourhoods were levelled, destroying more than 6700 buildings, almost all of them homes, and the business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the same fury that largely incinerated the foothill town.

In Paradise, the air still clogged with smoke, residents who stayed behind to try save their property or who managed to get back to their neighbourhoods found cars incinerated and homes reduced to rubble.

Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change, and home construction deeper into forests have led to more destructive wildfire seasons that have been starting earlier and lasting longer.

More than 3000 emergency personnel are battling the blazes, using 23 helicopters as well as firefighting air tankers.

President Donald Trump blamed poor forest management for the “massive, deadly and costly forest fires” on Twitter and threatened to withhold funding if the “gross mismanagement” was not remedied.

The air masses blowing across the western US deserts toward the coast are expected to bring the sustained high winds at least up until tomorrow. AP dpa Reuters