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Camp Fire: Death toll increases to 77 before possible rain | Updates

While the predicted downpours could help tamp down the blazes that have killed 77 people so far, they also could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

Update 10 p.m.

A Northern California sheriff says the list of names of those unaccounted for after a deadly wildfire has dropped to around 1,000.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says that's about 300 less than what was posted at the start of Sunday.

Authorities stressed that many of the people on the list may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

The so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on Nov. 8. It has destroyed around 10,500 homes.

Update 8:15 p.m.

Authorities say one more set of human remains was found Sunday, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77.

A state incident report released Sunday evening says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on Nov. 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

The fire was 65 percent contained Sunday.

Update 4:45 p.m.

More than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims of the Northern California wildfire at a church in Chico.

At least 77 bodies have been recovered in the fire zone about 170 miles north of San Francisco.

At the vigil Sunday, Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders as people hugged, some with tears in their eyes.

"We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now," he said. A banner on the altar read, "we will rise from the ashes."

Crews searching for remains are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work

Jacob Kliebe, a pastor at another local church, prayed for comfort and strength for the days ahead.

Update 3:45 p.m.

Volunteers in white coveralls, hard hats and masks poked through ash and debris Sunday, searching for the remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire before rains that are forecast for this week complicate their efforts.

While the predicted downpours could help tamp down the blazes that have killed 76 people so far, they also could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

A team of 10 volunteers went from burned house to burned house Sunday in the devastated town of Paradise, accompanied by a cadaver dog with a bell on its collar that jingled in the grim landscape.

The members of the team scrutinized the rubble in five-minute sweeps, using sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses. When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange "0'' near the house.

Up to 400 people were involved in the overall search and recovery effort. Robert Panak, a volunteer on a different team from Napa County, spent the morning searching homes, but didn't find any remains.

Asked whether the job was tough, the 50-year-old volunteer said, "I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure."

He said his approach was to try to picture the house before it burned and think about where people might have hidden.

Nearly 1,300 names are on a list of people who are unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County, authorities said late Saturday. They stressed that the long roster does not mean they believe all those on the list are missing.

Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded with evacuees to review the list of those reported as unreachable by family and friends and to call the department if those people are known to be safe.

Deputies have located hundreds of people to date, but the overall number keeps growing because they are adding more names, including those from the chaotic early hours of the disaster, Honea said.

"As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible," he said.

Honea said it was within the "realm of possibility" that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze.

Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes when they receive tips that someone might have died there.

But they are also doing a more comprehensive, "door-to-door" and "car-to-car" search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.

The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.

The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.

"Here we're looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches," he said Friday.

The remains of five more people were found Saturday, including four in Paradise and one in nearby Concow, bringing the number of dead to 76.

Among them was Lolene Rios, 56, whose son, Jed, tearfully told KXTV in Sacramento that his mother had an "endless amount of love" for him.

President Donald Trump toured the area Saturday, joined by California's outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp barbs with the Republican administration. Trump also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.

"We've never seen anything like this in California; we've never seen anything like this yet. It's like total devastation," Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise and pledged the full support of the federal government.

Soon after the fire began, Trump blamed state officials for poor forest management and threatened to cut off federal funding.

"He's got our back," outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president," Brown said. "But in the face of tragedy, people tend to rise above some of their lesser propensities. So I think we're on a good path."

He also suggested California's severe wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics "in less than five years," and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from fires.

Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph sustained winds and 40 mph gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.

Northern California's Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and torched 233 square miles (603 square kilometers). It was 55 percent contained.

Honea expressed hope that Trump's visit would help with recovery, saying the tour by the Republican president and California's Democratic leaders "signals a spirit of cooperation here that ultimately benefit this community and get us on a path toward recovery."

Update 1:20 p.m.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work.

A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighborhood looking for victims.

They're focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed.

If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

At least 76 bodies have been recovered in the fire zone.

Original story:

California's governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" airing Sunday that the Republican president has "got our back" and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He's since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.

Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics "in less than five years" and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.


RELATED: "California Wildfires: The New Normal" is ABC10's new 9-part series on how wildfires are changing lives across Northern California.

Watch episode 8 now: California’s leaders tell us we’ve entered a “new normal” of more intense wildfires. The truth is: Experts think the deadly mega-fires we’ve seen are just a preview of the new normal.

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