N. California Wildfire Death Toll at 56, Hundreds Missing - NBC New York
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N. California Wildfire Death Toll at 56, Hundreds Missing

The blaze in Butte County is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in recorded California history

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Death Toll Climbs to 56 in Camp Fire: Sheriff's Office

    Authorities have reported eight more fatalities from a blaze in Northern California, bringing the total number of fatalities so far to 56 in the deadliest wildfire in state history. Sam Brock reports. (Published Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018)

    Authorities have reported eight more fatalities from a blaze in Northern California, bringing the total number so far to 56 in the deadliest wildfire in state history.

    The announcement came Wednesday after authorities ramped up the search for more victims and said that 297 people were still unaccounted for.

    Click here to see the entire list of names.

    Earlier in the day, officials published a list of 101 people they said were unaccounted for. Sheriff Kory Honea later said 29 additional names were not yet included on that list while speaking at a Wednesday evening press conference — putting the total at 130.

    The sheriff’s office said nobody was available to explain why so many more names were included on the new list of 297 people. 

    Authorities said the blaze has grown in size to 215 square miles and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes.

    At a Wednesday evening news conference, officials said that more than 5,000 fire personnel were battling the blaze that was now 35 percent contained.

    The fire that started last Thursday has displaced 52,000 people and incinerated the town of Paradise.

    Officials said that 1,385 people were being housed in shelters.

    Meanwhile, additional crews have joined the search for victims and people reported missing.

    Credit: Sean Myers/NBC Bay Area

    "We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can,"  Honea said. "This is a very difficult task."

    Friends and relatives of the missing have grown increasingly desperate. A message board at a shelter was filled with photos of the missing and pleas for any information.

    "I hope you are okay," read one hand-written note on the board filled with sheets of notebook paper. Another had a picture of a missing man: "If seen, please have him call."

    The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone's genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

    "In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it's just such a lengthy process," said Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners' office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11.

    Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

    California Gov. Brown Surveys Camp Fire Destruction

    [NATL-BAY] California Gov. Brown Surveys Camp Fire Destruction

    They've thrown verbal punches at one another, but on Wednesday President Donald Trump called California Gov. Jerry Brown and promised his full support in battling the two deadly wildfires that continue to ravage California. Melissa Colorado reports.

    (Published Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018)

    At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California.

    The flames roared to life again in a mountainous wilderness area Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke near the community of Lake Sherwood. Still, firefighters made gains.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to the leveled town of Paradise, telling reporters 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."

    Brown, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump's policies, said he spoke with Trump, who pledged federal assistance.

    "This is so devastating that I don't really have the words to describe it," Brown said, adding that officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly.

    The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place that two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.

    People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not immediately returned.

    Linda Rawlings was on a daylong fishing trip with her husband and 85-year-old father when the fire broke out.

    Her next-door neighbors opened the back gate so her three dogs could escape before they fled the flames, and the dogs were picked up several days later waiting patiently in the charred remains of their home, she said.

    After days of uncertainty, Rawlings learned Tuesday morning that her "Smurf blue" home in Magalia burned to the ground.

    She sat looking shell-shocked on the curb outside a hotel in Corning.

    "Before, you always have hope," she said. "You don't want to give up. But now we know."

    Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala, Janie Har, Jocelyn Gecker and Olga R. Rodriguez.