Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California

Published:Friday | November 16, 2018 | 12:14 AM
Members of the California Army National Guard search for human remains at a home burned in the camp fire on Wednesday, November 14 in Paradise, California.

MAGALIA, California (AP):

Cool weather helped fire crews gain ground yesterday against the deadliest wildfire in a century in the United States, as the search went on for more bodies in the ashes of Paradise and surrounding communities. At least 56 people were killed, with 130 others missing a week after the flames swept through.

The nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometre) blaze was 40 per cent contained, the state fire agency said.

More than 450 searchers were assigned to look for remains in Paradise, California, which was all but destroyed, and outlying areas such as Magalia, a forested Northern California town of about 11,000. Many of the missing were elderly and from Magalia.

 

ROAD TO RECOVERY

 

"If this town does recover, it's going to take many, many years," said Johnny Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who lives up the road from many burned homes.

Police drove around town, searching for those still in their homes and checking if they needed food and water.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Wednesday night that 130 people were on the missing list.

At the other end of the state, crews continued to battle wildfires in Southern California, including a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometres) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and nearby communities. At least three deaths were reported.

Officials in Northern California put the number of homes lost at nearly 8,800, and the sheriff said the task of recovering remains had become so vast that his office brought in 287 more searchers on Wednesday, including National Guard troops. The searchers used 22 cadaver dogs.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Governor Jerry Brown on a visit to Paradise on Wednesday, saying it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.

"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said. "There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening." He cited higher temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.

The governor said officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly .