BUTTE COUNTY, Ca. — More than 1,000 people are unaccounted as California’s deadliest wildfire enters a second week.
The death toll rose to 71 in the Camp Fire that started November 8 in Northern California. The list of people who are unaccounted for grew to 1,011 names, but that number may change once authorities follow up with families to confirm if they’ve heard from missing relatives, Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea said Friday.
In addition to the dozens killed, three other deaths were reported in the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, bringing the statewide death toll from the wildfires to 74.
The Camp Fire — the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history — has destroyed about 9,800 homes and scorched 146,000 acres (an increase of 5,000 acres Friday). It is 50% contained.
Hundreds of deputies, National Guard troops, anthropologists and coroners are sifting through leveled homes and mangled cars for remains.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit the region Saturday. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom plan to accompany him.
Smoke from the large wildfire has prompted several universities to cancel or postpone sporting events. That includes the University of California, Berkeley men’s basketball game Thursday night, which was called off, and its football game, which was rescheduled for December 1.
‘A lot of people don’t know … we’re looking for them’
Honea has said investigators combined all the information they have received from callers since the fire erupted. Some names on the list appear more than once, and it’s unclear whether others are duplicates, too, Honea said.
Officials have said it’s hard to determine the number of missing. Some who may have evacuated can’t be reached because cell phone service is unreliable, while others haven’t reached out to relatives, and they may not know someone is looking for them, Honea said.
“I want you to understand,” Honea said earlier this week, “that there are a lot of people displaced, and we’re finding that a lot of people don’t know that we’re looking for them.”
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office published the list on its website. If people find their names on it, Honea said, or names of loved ones they know are safe, they’re asked to call the sheriff’s office.
For two days, Paradise police Officer Matthew Gates searched through ash and collapsed buildings for the remains of a woman.
When the Camp Fire broke out, a man told Gates his mother was likely driving on a jammed roadway that hundreds used to flee the flames. But Gates couldn’t find her.
Gates finally came across her at an evacuee shelter.
“She had burns up her arms and I knew it was her,” the officer told CNN affiliate KRCR. “I went and gave her a hug because I’ve been looking for her body.”
Authorities are trying to reach those who called 911 to verify they’ve made contact with their loved ones, said Sgt. Steve Collins of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re asking people to call us if they do come in contact with their loved one so that we don’t spend time looking for somebody that’s already found.”
‘I see flashbacks of the fire’
A week after her family narrowly escaped as the Camp Fire closed in on the town of Paradise, Whitney Vaughan said she feels like giving up.
Everything she and her husband, Grady, own is gone, along with a home they were renting, “a quirky older house with lots of character and lots of room” for their six kids, she said.
Thankfully, her two kids and his children are able to stay with the other parents, but Vaughan said she and her husband are essentially homeless. One night they just began driving from town to town in search of a motel.
“So now we are homeless, have no money, are trying to find a place,” Vaughan said. “And if that isn’t bad enough, when I do close my eyes, I see flashbacks of the fire and the people trapped on our streets. The explosions and the screams will never be a sound that I can forget.”
Vaughan said she’s worried about how she’s going to explain to her 7-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son that she’ll likely have to move away while they find some level of stability.
“There are just too many people in the same situation,” she said. “I don’t know what to do anymore. We have nowhere to turn.
“This fire has changed us in ways I can never explain.”
3 deaths in Southern California
Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire in Southern California has claimed three lives and destroyed 548 structures in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, said Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency.
More than 98,000 acres have been burned since the blaze began November 8, while evacuees remain in shelters, and portions of Malibu and nearby areas must be rebuilt, officials said.
More than 3,300 firefighters are making progress against the massive wildfire, which was 67% contained as of Friday.
More than 230,000 acres burned in California in the past week — larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. And in 30 days, firefighters have battled more than 500 blazes, Cal Fire said.