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7:30 p.m. Sunday Update:
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — As relatives desperately searched shelters for missing loved ones on Sunday, crews searching the smoking ruins of Paradise and outlying areas found six more bodies, raising the death toll to 29, matching the deadliest wildfire in California history.
Wildfires continued to rage on both ends of the state, with gusty winds expected overnight which will challenge firefighters. The statewide death toll stood at 31. The Camp Fire that ravaged a swath of Northern California was the deadliest.
A total of 29 bodies have been found so far from that fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news briefing Sunday evening. He said 228 people were still unaccounted for.
Ten search and recovery teams were working in Paradise — a town of 27,000 that was largely incinerated on Thursday — and in surrounding communities. Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history.
By early afternoon, one of the two black hearses stationed in Paradise had picked up another set of remains.
People looking for friends or relatives called evacuation centers, hospitals, police and the coroner's office.
Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.
Bechtold posted a flyer on social media, pinned it to bulletin boards at shelters and showed her picture around to evacuees, asking if anyone recognized her. He ran across a few of Caddy's neighbors, but they hadn't seen her.
As he drove through the smoke and haze to yet another shelter, he said, "I'm also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother's somewhere and you don't know where she's at. You don't know if she's safe."
He added: "I've got to stay positive. She's a strong, smart woman."
Officials and relatives held out hope that many of those unaccounted for were safe and simply had no cellphones or other ways to contact loved ones. The sheriff's office in the stricken northern county set up a missing-persons call center to help connect people.
Gov. Jerry Brown said California is requesting aid from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has blamed "poor" forest management for the fires. Brown told a press briefing that federal and state governments must do more forest management but said that's not the source of the problem.
"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change," Brown said. "And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we're now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years."
Firefighters battling the Camp Fire with shovels and bulldozers, flame retardants and hoses expected wind gusts up to 40 mph (64 kph) overnight Sunday. Officials said they expect the wind to die down by midday Monday, but there was still no rain in sight.
More than 8,000 firefighters in all battled three large wildfires burning across nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) in Northern and Southern California, with out-of-state crews arriving.
Two people were found dead in Southern California , where flames tore through Malibu mansions and working-class Los Angeles suburbs.
The burned bodies were discovered in a driveway in Malibu, where residents forced from their homes included Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West and Martin Sheen. Actor Gerard Butler said on Instagram that his Malibu home was "half-gone," and a publicist for Camille Grammer Meyer said the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star lost her home in the seaside enclave.
Flames also besieged Thousand Oaks, the Southern California city in mourning over the massacre of 12 people in a shooting rampage at a country music bar Wednesday night.
In Northern California, Sheriff Honea said the devastation was so complete in some neighborhoods that "it's very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there.
Authorities were also bringing in a DNA lab and said officials would reach out to relatives who had registered their missing loved ones to aid in identifying the dead after the blaze destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes.
The 29 dead in Northern California matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, though a series of wildfires in Northern California wine country last fall killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes.
The Camp Fire on Sunday stood at 173 square miles (450 square kilometers) and was 25 percent contained, but Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy warned that gusty winds predicted into Monday morning could spark "explosive fire behavior."
About 150,000 people statewide were under evacuation orders, most of them in Southern California, where nearly 180 structures were destroyed, including a large mobile home community in rugged Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu.
Brown's request for a major-disaster declaration from Trump would make victims eligible for crisis counseling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid.
Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change, and the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in California. While California officially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the northern two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.
"Things are not the way they were 10 years ago. ... The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be," said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, urging residents to evacuate rather than stay behind to try to defend their homes.
One of the Northern California fire's victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise.
Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend.
Breeding said Walker's husband was at work and called a neighbor to tell his wife to evacuate, but she was on medication and might not have been alert. Authorities confirmed her death late Friday.
"A fireman took him to the house to confirm," Breeding said. "This is a devastating thing, and it's happening to so many people."
11:30 p.m. Update:
Sheriff's investigators have begun the agonizing task of scouring through the wreckage of California's most destructive fire on record in search of the dead. By Saturday, the death toll had reached 23, but it seemed likely to climb.
With the entire town of Paradise wiped out and the fire still raging furiously in surrounding communities, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county was bringing in a fifth search and recovery team. An anthropology team from California State University, Chico was also assisting, because in some cases "the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments."
"This weighs heavy on all of us," Honea said. "Myself and especially those staff members who are out there doing what is important work but certainly difficult work."
The victims have not been identified, but the department has a roster of 110 people believed missing. Officials hope many of the elderly on the list simply are elsewhere without cellphones or away to contact loved ones. Honea said the agency was also bringing in a mobile DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in the identification process.
The death toll made the Camp Fire the third-deadliest on record in the state, another statistic for a blaze now logged at 164 square miles (425 square kilometers) that has cost at least $8.1 million to fight so far, said Steve Kaufmann, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Entire neighborhoods were leveled, destroying more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes, and the business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the same fury that largely incinerated the foothill town.
More firefighters headed to the area Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour expected through Monday, raising the risk of conditions similar to those when the fire started Thursday, said Alex Hoon with the National Weather Service.
10 p.m. Update:
Sheriff's investigators have begun the agonizing task of scouring through the wreckage from a massive Northern California fire that has already become the third-deadliest on record in the state.
They are searching for fire victims. The death toll has already reached 23.
The victims have not been identified, but the department has a roster of 110 people believed missing, though officials hope many of the people simply can't reach loved ones.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says the agency is bringing in a mobile DNA lab and is encouraging relatives to donate. Meanwhile, fire officials worried about dangerous winds expected to kick up through Monday.
9:30 p.m. Update:
The fire that leveled the hillside town of Paradise and claimed at least 23 lives roared in so fast that for the first 24 hours, there was no firefight at all - just rescues.
Firefighters mostly had to watch Paradise burn around them; the opposite of what most are used to doing.
Cal Fire Butte County Unit Chief Darren Read paused to gather his emotions Saturday as he told firefighters that they got their "butts kicked" during Thursday's initial fire.
But he said firefighters saved the lives of thousands of people in their communities.
Firefighter Thor Shirley says it was constant round-robin trips pulling people from homes and those trapped on the road.
His crew rescued people who were bed-ridden, three nurses, a doctor, a sheriff's deputy and a California Highway Patrol officer.
8:30 p.m. Update:
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says his department has reports of 110 people still missing in a massive Northern California wildfire that has scorched 164 square miles (425 square kilometers).
Honea says he's hopeful that more of those missing people will be located. The department initially had more than 500 calls about citizens who were unable to reach loved ones.
But he says they've been able to help locate many.
Next he says sheriff's officials will be cross-checking their list with official shelters to search for the remaining missing.
Honea said Saturday that 23 people have died in the fire near Paradise, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.
7:30 p.m. Update:
The death toll from the Camp Fire more than doubled, as fire officials said they recovered 14 more bodies on Saturday.
According to a spokesperson with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department, four of the victims were discovered in the Concow area and 10 in Paradise. Some were found in vehicles, others were found inside and outside of homes. The total death toll from the disaster now stands at 23.
The Camp Fire is now the third deadliest wildfire in California history, according to the Associated Press.
According to the latest figures from CAL FIRE, the Camp Fire has now consumed 105,000 acres of land and remains 20 percent contained. Approximately 52,000 people were evacuated.
Out of 508 calls related to missing persons, the sheriff’s office says they’ve whittled that number down to 110 still pending. The sheriff’s office say they have responded to 53 reports of looting, but so far, no arrests have been made and no evidence of looting has been found.
6:22 p.m. update:
At the news conference, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the death toll now stands at 23 in the Camp Fire. 14 bodies have been discovered since their last update.
Other officials said that the city of Oroville is not under immediate danger, but high winds make the situation dangerous.
CAL FIRE reported that 6,450 homes have been lost in the fire.
4:30 p.m. Update:
The air thick with smoke from a ferocious wildfire that was still burning homes Saturday, residents who stayed behind to try to save their property or who managed to get back to their neighborhoods in Northern California found cars incinerated and homes reduced to rubble.
People surveyed the damage and struggled to cope with what they had lost. Entire neighborhoods were leveled and the business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the same fury that largely incinerated the foothill town of Paradise and killed at least nine people.
The flames burned down more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes, making it California's most destructive wildfire since record-keeping began. There were 35 people still missing.
More firefighters headed to the area Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour expected, raising the risk of conditions similar to those when the fire started Thursday, said Alex Hoon with the National Weather Service. The blaze grew to 156 square miles (404 square kilometers), but crews made gains and it was partially contained, officials said.
People sidestepped metal that melted off cars and Jet-Skis and donned masks as they surveyed ravaged neighborhoods despite an evacuation order for all of Paradise, a town of 27,000 founded in the 1800s. Some cried when they saw nothing was left.
The City of Sacramento has canceled Sunday's planned Veteran's Day parade due to poor air quality conditions.
2:30 p.m. Update:
President Donald Trump tweeted this afternoon urging residents near California's two major fires to heed evacuation orders:
The afternoon's tweet struck a different tone from one this morning when he threatened to cut off federal funding for forest management in California:
Update 1:00 p.m.:
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — Authorities in Northern California have ordered residents to leave four small communities southeast of a town leveled by a deadly wildfire.
The Butte County Sheriff's Office on Saturday issued an evacuation order for the communities of Berry Creek, Bush Creek, Mountain House, and Bloomer Hill.
More than 50,000 people have been displaced by the blaze that has killed at least nine people and devastated the town of Paradise, where all 27,000 residents were ordered to evacuate.
Officials say better weather is helping them gain ground but they're bracing for high winds that could spread the fire to other communities.
National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Hoon says the area will see winds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) with ridges seeing gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) starting Saturday night.
Update 7:05 a.m.:
The Camp Fire ripping through Butte County has burned 100,000 acres, killing nine and injuring 3 firefighters, according to CAL Fire.
The fire destroyed more than 6, 453 homes, including most of the town of Paradise. CAL Fire officials say at least 15,000 structures are still threatened. Dozens of communities have been evacuated since the fire sparked early Thursday morning, forcing tens of thousands to flee.
Fire officials say they expect strong winds to return Saturday night. The fire is just 20 percent contained.
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — Not a single resident of Paradise can be seen anywhere in town after most of them fled the burning Northern California community that may be lost forever. Abandoned, charred vehicles cluttered the main thoroughfare, evidence of the panicked evacuation a day earlier.
Most of its buildings are in ruin. Entire neighborhoods are leveled. The business district is destroyed. In a single day, this Sierra Nevada foothill town of 27,000 founded in the 1800s was largely incinerated by flames that moved so fast there was nothing firefighters could do.
Only a day after it began, the blaze that started outside the hilly town of Paradise had grown on Friday to nearly 140 square miles (360 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 6,700 structures, almost all of them homes, making it California's most destructive wildfire since record-keeping began.
Nine people have been found dead, some inside their cars and others outside vehicles or homes after a desperate evacuation that Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea called "the worst-case scenario." Their identities were not yet known.
"It is what we feared for a long time," Honea said, noting there was no time to knock on residents' doors one-by-one.
With fires also burning in Southern California , state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at more than 200,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. He later threatened to withhold federal payments to California, claiming its forest management is "so poor." Trump said via Twitter Saturday that "there is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly fires in California." Trump said "billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"
The fire in Paradise, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, was still burning out of control Friday.
A thick, yellow haze hung in the air, giving the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day. Some of the "majestic oaks" the town boasts of on its website still have fires burning in their trunks. Thick wooden posts holding up guardrails continued to burn.
Thursday morning's evacuation order set off a desperate exodus in which many frantic motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic. Many abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot as the flames bore down on all sides.
"The fire was so close I could feel it in my car through rolled up windows," said Rita Miller, who fled Paradise with her disabled mother.
The town, situated on a ridge between two valleys, was a popular retirement community, raising concerns of elderly and immobile residents who have been reported missing.
On the outskirts of town, Patrick Knuthson, a fourth-generation resident, said only two of the 22 homes that once stood on his street are still there — his and a neighbor's.
"The fire burned from one house, to the next house, to the next house until they were pretty much all gone," Knuthson said. He worked side-by-side with neighbors all night, using a backhoe to create a fire line, determined not to lose his house this time.
"I lost my home in 2008, and it's something you can't really describe until you go through it," said Knuthson, who battled flames eight feet or taller as strong winds whipped hot embers around him. He worked so long in the flames and smoke that he needed to use oxygen Thursday night at his home, but he refused to leave.
On Friday, Knuthson was covered from head to toe in black soot. His tiny town will never be the same, he said. The bucolic country landscape dotted with bay and oak trees will take years to recover.
In the town's central shopping area, there was little left but rubble.
St. Nicolas Church still stands, a rare exception. The nearby New Life church is gone. An unblemished Burger King sign rises above a pile of charred rubble. The metal patio tables are the only recognizable things under Mama Celeste's pizzeria sign. Only blackened debris remains behind the Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant sign touting its sushi. Seven burned out Mercedes chassis are all that's left of Ernst Mercedes Specialist lot.
City Hall survived. But the Moose Lodge and Chamber of Commerce buildings didn't.
The town's 100-bed hospital is still standing, but two of its smaller buildings, including an outpatient clinic, are flattened. The Adventist Feather River Hospital evacuated its 60 patients in a frantic rush when the evacuation order came Thursday morning. Some were forced back by clogged roads, but all of them eventually made it out, some in dramatic fashion.
On the outskirts of Paradise, Krystin Harvey lost her mobile home. She described a town rich with historical charm, until a day ago.
"It was an old country town. It had the old buildings lined up along the walkway," she said. "Almost all businesses were locally owned and included an assortment of antique shops, thrift stores, small restaurants, two bars and lots of churches."
Harvey wondered if the town's traditions would survive. The town was famous for the discovery of a 54-pound gold nugget in the 1800s, which eventually prompted a festival known as Gold Nugget Days. The highlight of the festival is a parade that features a Gold Nugget Queen.
"My daughter's going out for the gold nugget queen this year," said Harvey, then she paused. "Well, it's been going for 100 years, but we don't know — there's no town now."
People in Paradise, like so many in California, have become accustomed to wildfires, and many said they were well prepared. They kept their gutters clean, some kept pumps in their swimming pools and had fire hoses. But the ferocity and speed of this blaze overwhelmed those preparations.
Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests have led to more destructive wildfire seasons that have been starting earlier and lasting longer.
Just 100 miles north of Paradise, the sixth most destructive wildfire in California history hit in July and August and was also one of the earliest. Called the Carr Fire, near Redding, it killed eight people, burned about 1,100 homes and consumed 358 square miles (927 square kilometers) before it was contained.
Paradise town Councilmember Melissa Schuster lost her 16-acre Chapelle de L'Artiste retreat, a posh property with a chapel, pond and pool. But Friday she was clinging to two furry glimmers of hope: Shyann and Twinkle Star Heart.
"Our llamas," she said. "Somehow they made it through."
Schuster said they stopped trying to hook up a trailer for the animals and fled their home and property with just their three cats on Thursday when the day turned pitch black as fire roared in.
"It's Paradise," she said. "It's always been Paradise, and we will bring it back."