More than 1,000 people are unaccounted for and thousands of survivors are living in cars and tents as California’s deadliest wildfire enters a second week.
“It is overwhelming. I don’t have any word to describe it,” Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea told CNN on Saturday. “This is unprecedented. No one has had to deal with this magnitude that caused so much destruction and regrettably so much death.”
Saturday, President Donald Trump went to California and got a firsthand look at the burned-out town of Paradise, where many breathing-mask-wearing onlookers stood by the road taking photos. Accompanying Trump were Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.
“We’re all going to work together and we’ll do a real job, but this is very sad to see,” Trump said. The President later toured fire damage in Southern California.
With the Camp Fire’s death toll now at 71, the list of those missing from the fire zone has grown to 1,011 names, though that may change after authorities follow up with families, officials cautioned.
The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire has destroyed more than 9,800 homes and scorched 148,000 acres since starting November 8. It was 55% contained as of Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, three deaths have been reported in the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, bringing the statewide death toll from the wildfires to 74.
‘A lot of people don’t know … we’re looking for them’
Even as the list of those missing in the Camp Fire has ballooned, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people truly are lost, officials have said.
“That is raw data we’re collecting from phone calls, emails and the 911 system,” Honea said Saturday. “It’s not perfect data, but our thought process is that it’s better to get that information out to help start getting people accounted for. So rather than wait for perfection, we’re trying to get some progress going.”
Hundreds of deputies, National Guard troops, coroners and anthropologists are sifting through leveled homes and mangled cars for remains.
Some who may have evacuated can’t be reached because cell phone service is unreliable, while others haven’t reached out to relatives, Honea said earlier this week. Many may not know someone is searching for them.
“I want you to understand 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,” he said.
If people find their own or loved ones’ names on the list at the Butte County Sheriff’s Office’s website, they should call the sheriff’s office, Honea said.
In the midst of despair, hope remains. The mayor of Paradise told CNN Saturday that she is committed to rebuilding her town, as is the town council.
“Paradise is not gone,” Jody Jones said, citing a friend’s Facebook post. “It’s just closed for remodeling.”
‘I see flashbacks of the fire’
A week after her family narrowly escaped as the Camp Fire closed in on 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 children, she said.
The children can stay with relatives, but she and her husband have nowhere to go, Vaughan said.
“So, now we are homeless, have no money, are trying to find a place,” Vaughan said. “There are just too many people in the same situation. … This fire has changed us in ways I can never explain.”
3 deaths in Southern California
The Woolsey Fire burning in Southern California has destroyed 836 structures in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Cal Fire said.
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. It was 82% contained on Saturday morning, Cal Fire reported.
“Resources will continue to mop up and patrol. Fire suppression repair teams are actively engaged working around the fire perimeter and affected areas,” the agency said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Cal Fire reported some improvement in smoke levels regionally Saturday, but the air was still in the very unhealthy range.