Number of missing in California fire declines, search continues


The death toll from the California wildfire rose to 77 while a vigil to honour the victims was held in Paradise city.

A search and rescue dog searches for human remains at the Camp Fire on November 16, 2018 in Paradise, California.

A search and rescue dog searches for human remains at the Camp Fire on November 16, 2018 in Paradise, California. (John Locher / AP)

Authorities on Sunday sifted through the charred wreckage of California’s deadliest ever wildfire, searching for any signs of the 993 people now listed as missing after the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.

The remains of 77 people have been recovered, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said late on Sunday, as it cut the number of missing to 993 from 1,276. It gave no other details.

“One human remain was located today,” raising the toll by one in the so-called Camp Fire which broke out 10 days earlier in northern California, a statement from the Butte County Sheriff said, following US President Donald Trump’s visit on Saturday to survey the devastation.

TRT World’s  Christine Pirovolakis has more.

Some of the people on the ever-evolving list compiled by the Butte County sheriff’s office have been confirmed dead by family and friends on social media. Others have been found safe, but authorities have not yet marked them as such.

And some, like Tamara Conry, say they never should have been on the list.

“My husband and I are not missing and never were!” Conry wrote Thursday night on a Facebook page dedicated to finding people from the fire zone in and around the incinerated town of Paradise. “We have no family looking for us … I called and left a message to take our names off.”

The confusion stems from the difficulty authorities face putting together a tally of the missing as they pore through hundreds of reports filed by people who could not reach loved ones in the aftermath of a blaze that spread with astonishing speed last week. It became the deadliest US wildfire in a century.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea acknowledged the list is “dynamic” and includes reports of missing people from the disaster’s frantic early hours when authorities were flooded with calls.

“The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary. Now, we’re trying to go back out and make sure that we’re accounting for everyone,” Honea said, explaining that deputies were recording the earliest dispatch reports.

In last year’s wine country wildfires, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing but slowly whittled down the number. In the end, 44 people died in that series of fires in several California counties.

Thousands of homes destroyed

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.

At last count, the Camp Fire had destroyed more than 13,600 homes and other structures, authorities said late on Sunday.

Up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain is expected to fall from late Tuesday through Friday in the Sierra foothills, said Patrick Burke, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“It’ll bring much needed relief to the firefighters and to the air quality, but there’s a potential for dangerous mudslides wherever vegetation is burned away on slopes and hills,” Burke said.

Up to 2 inches of rain is also expected to fall on southern California this week, where the Woolsey Fire claimed at least three lives.

PG&E Corp has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

On Friday, the company reported to regulators a second power-line outage that it experienced in Butte County on the morning of Nov. 8 when the Camp Fire started.

During a visit to both fire zones on Saturday, US President Donald Trump blamed the recent spate of wildfires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Scientists say the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California and elsewhere across the US West are largely attributable to prolonged drought symptomatic of climate change.


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