BUTTE COUNTY — With the death toll in Northern Californias Camp Fire sitting at 29 people — matching a historic high set in 1933 — firefighters on Monday are facing another day of wind-whipped flames fueled by low humidity and dry brush that has not seen rain in months.
Officials on Sunday night said 121 people were still reported missing. Since the wildfire first ignited Thursday, the Butte County Sheriffs Office had received reports of 228 people unaccounted for, but as of Sunday night 107 people had been located, mostly in shelters, according to Sheriff Kory Honea.
The most destructive in the states history, the fire has already burned some 111,000 acres, reducing the city of Paradise to ashes and destroying more than 6,700 homes and businesses.
“We anticipate that number will increase significantly,” Cal Fire Capt. Steve Kaufman said Sunday night at a press conference. “I want to stress there was major fire devastation in that perimeter of the fire.”
Late Sunday, the town of Paradise released a list of 695 structures that were damaged at least 50 percent in the blaze.
Three firefighters have suffered injuries in the conflagration, which was 25 percent contained Sunday and still threatening 15,000 structures.
Nancy Clements, who stayed at her home as the Camp Fire raged through Paradise, Calif., leans against her fence on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Clements and her husband said they tried to save neighboring homes, but watched as many burned. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Anthropology students observe as human remains are recovered from a burned out home at the Camp Fire, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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CHICO, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 101: The sun sets on the fourth day of the deadly Camp Fire near Chico, Calif., Sunday, November 11, 2018. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Archaeologists with the Human Identification Laboratory sort through fire rubble to try and find victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)
Law enforcement officials try and find victims of the Camp Fire at the Ridgewood Community in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)
PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 11: A teapot is seen amid fire rubble along Elliott Road in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Twenty-three people have died so far in the destructive Camp Fire. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 11: University of Nevada Reno archaeology students recover human remains in a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Twenty-three people have died so far in the destructive Camp Fire. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 11: A San Francisco firefighter and Butte County Sheriffs Deputy are on scene as University of Nevada Reno archaeology students recover human remains in a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Twenty-three people have died so far in the destructive Camp Fire. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 11: A burned cat waits for animal control to arrive after they were called by responders who discovered it near Bille Road in Paradise, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Twenty-three people have died so far in the destructive Camp Fire. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
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Air quality in the Bay Area is expected to remain smoky Monday with dry conditions and light offshore winds, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists with the weather service said Monday that a “pattern change will potentially bring rainfall to the region around Thanksgiving.”
This is the “new abnormal,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday, addressing a room of reporters at the states Office of Emergency Services. The same hot, dry and windy conditions that sparked the deadly fires in both Northern and Southern California on Thursday had returned Sunday and were expected to persist throughout the night. He requested a major disaster declaration to allow FEMA to begin providing local assistance to the roughly 149,000 residents still fleeing fires up and down the Golden State.
In Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the Woolsey Fire has burned 83,275 acres and claimed the lives of two people. Nearly 200 homes or businesses have been destroyed in the fire, which was 10 percent contained as of Sunday evening. Firefighters had a better handle on the Hill Fire, which ignited around the same time on Thursday afternoon as the Woolsey Fire. It was 70 percent contained Sunday, having already scorched 4,531 acres and destroyed two structures.
Authorities found the six additional victims in the Camp Fire on Sunday inside Paradise, five in homes and one in a vehicle. The number of deaths equals those in the Griffith Park fire, Californias previous most deadly wildfire blaze.
These kinds of fires will continue to ravage the state, Brown said, likely costing “hundreds of billions” of dollars as officials focus on how to adapt to the devastating fires.
“The best science is telling us dryness, warmth, drought, they will intensify,” he said. “We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life.”
President Donald Trump, in a tweet, lobbed criticism on Brown and first responders Saturday, saying there was “no reason” for the states massive, deadly fires. He pinned the blame on poor forest management and threatened to cut off federal aid. Brown reminded residents on Sunday that the vast majority of untamed land in California is under federal or private control.
But no amount of forest management can prevent climate change, Brown said.
“Were getting caught up here in a changed world,” he said. “Were dealing with existential conditions that, once they take off — there is a certain amount of dryness in the vegetation, in the soil, and in the air, and when the winds get up to 50, 60 mph — this is what happens.”
Though no causes for the fires in Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties have yet been identified, early radio transmissions reviewed by this news organization indicated PG&E power lines, amid high winds, may have sparked the deadly Camp Fire. PG&E disclosed in a Friday filing to state regulators that it had detected damage to a transmission tower on the same transmission line “in the area of the Camp Fire” where firefighters noted downed power lines.
Aaron Johnson, PG&Es vice president in charge of fire safety efforts, declined to acknowledge the allegations that the utility may have caused the fire, but said the company was working to restore power when safe and was working with first responders to turn off gas lines when needed. Sixty-one of PG&Es own employees lost their homes in the blaze, he said.
The Camp Fire grew by 6,000 acres Sunday and sparked several spot fires in nearby areas, said Joshua Bischof, a battalion chief for Cal Fire. It also burned more of the area inside the containment lines, which fire officials said likely resulted in more homes and businesses lost, though they didnt have an estimate yet for how many more had burned.
“We have seen an increase in fire activity today,” Bischof said. “Were reminding residents to stay vigilant.”
Despite the adverse conditions, there were some successes Sunday, said Daryl Osby, fire chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Winds whipped flames in dry canyons, but fire crews were able to keep the blaze within the containment zone, he said. And, there were no new reports of homes or businesses lost in the area.
That same gusty wind is pushing smoke into the Bay Area, where the air quality was forecast to remain at unhealthy levels Monday, said Kristine Roselius, a spokesperson for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The amount of fine particulate matter registered across the Bay Area on Friday, the day after the Camp Fire ignited, was the second-highest recorded in 20 years, trailing only the air pollution recorded during the North Bay fires, she said.
In Butte County, even as fire crews worked to dampen hot spots, remove downed power lines and clear other hazards, the search for missing people continued in Paradise, a town of nearly 27,000 that was reduced to rubble. The Butte County Sheriffs Office has received some 550 calls asking for welfare checks and 228 missing people reports, said Sheriff Kory Honea. Detectives have been able to locate 107 of those people, he said.
The agency on Sunday activated a missing persons center for people searching for friends or family members. The sheriffs office requested calls be made to one of three numbers — listed at the bottom of this article — even if they had already reported the person missing to the department. Detectives will advise callers on the status of their case and provide any additional details or, if necessary, offer instructions on how to submit a saliva sample for DNA analysis.
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The 29 bodies recovered are being sent to morgues in Sacramento County, where Butte County officials are working with the California Department of Justices DNA lab and teams of coroners investigators and anthropologists to identify the decedents. He had no estimate for how long that would take.
“We are very early in our efforts,” Honea said. “There is still a great deal of work to do.”
Butte County missing persons call center phone numbers:
- (530) 538-6570
- (530) 538-7544
- (530) 538-7671