At least 63 people are now dead from a Northern California wildfire as officials admitted they have a missing persons list with 631 names on it in an ever-evolving account of the victims of the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.
The high number of missing people may include some who fled the blaze, but do not realise they have been reported missing.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said he was making the list public so people could see if they were on it and let authorities know they had survived. “The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary,” Mr Honea said. “Now we’re trying to go back out and make sure that we’re accounting for everyone.”
About 52,000 people have been displaced to shelters, the homes of friends and relatives and to motels. A Walmart parking lot and an adjacent field in Chico – a dozen miles away from the ashes – are also holding those who have lost their homes.
The Northern California fire that started a week earlier obliterated the town of Paradise. Searchers have pulled bodies from incinerated homes and cremated cars, but in many cases the victims may have been reduced to bits of bones and ash. The latest toll stands at 63 dead and 9,800 homes destroyed.
At the other end of the state, more residents were being allowed back into the zone of a wildfire that torched an area the size of Denver, west of Los Angeles. The fire was 62 per cent contained after destroying nearly 550 homes and other buildings. At least three deaths were reported.
Air quality across large swathes of California remains very poor due to huge plumes of smoke. Schools from Sacramento to the Pacific Coast were closed yesterday. San Francisco’s iconic open-air cable cars were pulled off the streets.
Northern California’s Camp Fire was 40 per cent contained by Thursday, but there was no timeline for allowing evacuees to return because of the danger. Power lines were still down, roads closed and firefighters were still dousing embers.
Anna Goodnight of Paradise tried to make the best of it, sitting on an overturned shopping cart in the parking lot and eating scrambled eggs while her husband drank a Budweiser. Word started to spread that efforts were being made to phase out the camp by tomorrow by gradually removing donated clothing, food and toilets.
“The ultimate goal is to get these people out of tents, out of their cars and into warm shelter,” volunteer Jessica Busick said. Information for contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency was posted on a board that allowed people to write the names of those believed missing.