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California's forest fires hitting areas with a sizable number of older residents

California's forest fires hitting areas with a sizable number of older residents
Firefighters keep an eye on the Valley fire along Butts Canyon Road southeast of Middletown on Tuesday afternoon as winds kick up again. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The deadly fires ravaging Northern California are in mountainous, rural areas and are putting the elderly particularly at risk.

In Lake and Calaveras counties, where five residents -- all senior citizens -- have died, a much higher percentage of residents are 65 and older than in the rest of California. Many of those people also have health issues that make it difficult for them to get around.

More: Five wildfire deaths highlight vulnerability of isolated seniors in disasters >>

Most of the wooded, lightly populated counties in the northern part of the state have similar populations: high concentrations of the elderly and relatively few people of working age.

In Calaveras County, where the Butte fire has taken the lives of two senior citizens, a bulk of the population is older than 55. There are many fewer residents between 20 and 40. Children and teenagers make up the second-biggest percentage in the county. Twenty percent of the county’s residents are seniors, the highest proportion in the state according to census data.

To the northwest, the elderly make up 18% of Lake County, though it has a slightly greater share of working-age adults. One woman is confirmed dead and two other men are believed to have died in the Valley fire, all senior citizens.

The state as a whole is 11% senior citizens, driven by urban population centers such as those in Los Angeles County where the young and working-age make up the largest proportion of residents.

People with limited mobility are also more common in the area where the fires are burning. In both Calaveras and Lake counties, nearly 4% of the population is disabled, among the highest proportions in the state.

Barbara McWilliams, the first reported fatality in Lake County, died in her home over the weekend as the Valley fire started and grew rapidly. The 72-year-old was confined to her rural home and could not drive; a caretaker made regular trips to take care of her.

CountyPercentage of senior citizens
with limited mobility in population
Trinity County4.52%
Siskiyou County4.50%
Tuolumne County4.15%
Del Norte County4.04%
Calaveras County3.89%
Imperial County3.82%
Lake County3.80%
Amador County3.75%
Shasta County3.62%
Tehama County3.61%

Read more about California wildfires >>

Times staff writers Doug Smith and Lee Romney contributed to this report.

Twitter: @ryanvmenezes

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