Search On for 1,276 Now Missing after California’s Deadliest Wildfire

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Moutard searches for human remains with her cadaver dog in a truck destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise
Trish Moutard, of Sacramento, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, I.C., in a truck destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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By Terray Sylvester and Steve Holland
PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) 

The number of people missing after California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire jumped on Saturday to 1,276, despite authorities locating hundreds of people who scattered when the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise

Forensic recovery teams sifting through the charred wreckage recovered the remains of five more victims, bringing the death toll to at least 76, authorities said. Sixty-three of them have been tentatively identified, pending DNA confirmation.

 

Hogan of Paradise walks through a makeshift evacuation center for people displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico
Bridgett Hogan, 57, of Paradise, walks through a makeshift evacuation center for people displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said much of the increase in the number of missing was due to his office’s efforts to comb through a backlog of emergency calls that came in during the first hours of the fire on Nov. 8.

He said officials were sifting through the list of missing persons for duplications and people who fled. Some 380 people had been located and taken off the list since Friday, he said.

 

President Donald Trump visits the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom FEMA head Brock Long Paradise Mayor Jody Jones and Governor Jerry Brown in Paradise California
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom (L), FEMA head Brock Long (2nd L), Paradise Mayor Jody Jones (2n R) and Governor Jerry Brown in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

“A lot of progress is being made with regard to that, but this is still raw data,” Honea told a news conference.

The sheriff spoke after President Donald Trump visited Paradise, the small community that was home to nearly 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills, 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, before being all but consumed by the blaze.

 

 

“Nobody could have thought this would ever happen,” Trump told reporters amid the charred wreckage of the town’s Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park.

“This is very sad to see. As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet,” Trump said. “Right now we want to take care of the people who have been so badly hurt.”

 

Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise
Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Trump was flanked by California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Brown said the federal government was doing what it needed to do, including supporting first responders and helping with clean-up and search for victims.

The disaster already ranks among the deadliest U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century. Eighty-seven people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in August 1910. Minnesota’s Cloquet Fire in October 1918 killed 450 people.

 

An anthropologist examines the remains of a dog found in a bathtub in a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise,
An anthropologist (R) examines the remains of a dog found in a bathtub in a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Trump has blamed the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with Brown and Newsom on the ride into Paradise.

Asked whether the scenes of devastation had changed his view on climate change, Trump said: “No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate and we’re going to have that and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”

 

Hogan comforts his mother while they stay at a makeshift evacuation center for people displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico
Travis Lee Hogan, of Paradise, comforts his mother, Bridgett Hogan, while they stay at a makeshift evacuation center for people displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Authorities attribute the high death toll from the blaze – dubbed “Camp Fire” – partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town with little warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.

More than a week later, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 55 percent of the blaze’s perimeter.

 

Dancin looks through free clothing at a makeshift evacuation center in Chico
Ashley Dancin, 30, who was displaced from her home in Concow by the Camp Fire, looks through free clothing at a makeshift evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.

 

EVACUEES

With more than 12,700 homes and other structures up in smoke, many refugees have taken up temporary residence with friends and family, while others have pitched tents or were living out of their vehicles.

 

After losing their home in Magalia in the Camp Fire, Robin Tompkins and her son, Lukas, line up for a free meal in a makeshift evacuation center in Chico
After losing their home in Magalia in the Camp Fire, Robin Tompkins and her son, Lukas, line up for a free meal in a makeshift evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

Hundreds of evacuees were being housed in 14 emergency shelters set up in churches, schools and community centres around the region, with more than 46,000 people remaining under evacuation orders, authorities said.

Several shelters are full and although authorities say they still have space for everyone, hundreds of people have been camping in tents and cars in the area.

 

LIST OF THE MISSING

The names were being compiled from information received from a special hotline, along with email reports and a review of emergency 911 calls that came in on the first night of the fire, Honea said.

 

President Donald Trump visits the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom Brock Long Paradise Mayor Jody Jones and Governor Jerry Brown in Paradise California
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom (L), Brock Long (R), Paradise Mayor Jody Jones (2nd R) and Governor Jerry Brown in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

Some listed have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities. Others may not have been immediately listed because of delays in reporting them.

Honea bristled at a Friday press conference when asked whether many of those listed, more than a week after the disaster, were expected at this point to end up either deceased or declared missing and presumed dead.

 

Soldiers of the California National Guard listen to a briefing before searching for human remains in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise
Soldiers of the California National Guard listen to a briefing before searching for human remains in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for any of us to sit and speculate about what the future holds,” he said.

The sheriff on Saturday emphasized that authorities were largely relying on the public’s cooperation to determine who on the list of missing persons is alive.

 

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing with State officials including Ken Pimlott Director of CAL FIRE while visiting the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in Paradise California
U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a briefing with State officials including Ken Pimlott (R), Director of CAL FIRE, while visiting the charred wreckage of Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

“I want to tell people that it’s really very important for you to take a look at the list and call us if you’re on the list and let us know.”

Weather conditions have since turned more in the firefighters’ favour, though strong, gusty winds and lower humidity were expected through early Sunday ahead of rain forecast for mid-week.

 

Employees of Pacific Gas & Electric mark gas lines in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise
Employees of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) mark gas lines in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

 

The outbreak of Camp Fire coincided with a series of smaller blazes in Southern California, most notably the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.

Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California and elsewhere across the West are largely attributable to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

The precise causes of the Camp and Woolsey Fires were under investigation, but electric utilities have reported equipment problems in the vicinity of both blazes around the time they erupted.

 

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Berkrot)

 

More photos ahead …

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