By KATHLEEN RONAYNE
MAGALIA, Calif. — Cool weather helped fire crews gain ground Thursday against the nations deadliest wildfire in a century, as the search went on for more bodies. At least 56 people were killed and 300 were unaccounted for a week after the flames swept through.
The nearly 220-square-mile blaze in Northern California was 40 percent contained, the state fire agency said, and firefighters succeeded in slowing the flames advance toward populated areas.
Members of the California Army National Guard search a property for human remains at the Camp fire, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sheriffs deputies recover the bodies of multiple Camp Fire victims at the from a Holly Hills Mobile Estates residence on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
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Search and rescue workers rest after looking for bodies of Camp Fire victims at the Holly Hills Mobile Estates on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Thousands of homes were destroyed when flames hit Paradise, a former gold-mining camp popular with retirees, on Nov. 8, killing multiple people in Californias deadliest wildfire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Denise Chester, an evacuee of the Camp Fire, hugs her son Antonio Batres as she volunteers sorting clothes at a makeshift shelter in Chico, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Chester, who doesnt want to know yet whether her home survived, said “I want to help. I dont want to shut down.” (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Tape marks a spot where sheriffs deputies recovered the body of a Camp Fire victim on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Thousands of homes were destroyed when flames hit Paradise, a former gold-mining camp popular with retirees, on Nov. 8, killing multiple people in Californias deadliest wildfire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
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More than 450 searchers were assigned to look for remains in Paradise, which was all but destroyed Nov. 8, and in outlying areas such as Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000. Many of the missing were elderly and from Magalia.
“If this town does recover, its going to take many, many years,” said Johnny Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who lives up the road from many burned homes.
Police drove around town, searching for those still in their homes and checking if they needed food and water.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Wednesday night that 130 people were missing. His office later released a list of 300 who were unaccounted for, though spokeswoman Miranda Bowersox said some of those may simply not have checked in with officials or family.
At the other end of the state, crews continued to battle wildfires in Southern California, including a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and nearby communities. At least three deaths were reported.
Officials in Northern California put the number of homes lost there at nearly 8,800, and the sheriff said the task of recovering remains had become so vast that his office brought in 287 more searchers Wednesday, including National Guard troops. The search crews used 22 cadaver dogs.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to Paradise on Wednesday, saying it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.
“Now is not the time to point fingers,” Zinke said. “There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening.” He cited higher temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.
The governor said officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly .
It will take years to rebuild, if people decide thats what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point,” he said.
While most of Paradise was wiped out, in Magalia there was a sharp dividing line between homes that burned and those that were spared.
“Magalia has so many trees. I honestly cant believe it just didnt get leveled,” said Sheri Palade, an area real estate agent.
Tom Driver, the office manager and elder at Magalia Community Church, said he heard the church made it through the blaze, though he did not know whether his home did.
“Ive been able to account for all of the congregation,” said Driver, who is staying with family in Oakland. “Theyre all over the place, but they got out in pretty good time.”
Kim Bonini, one of those who got out safely, left after hearing someone on a bullhorn two blocks over urging people to leave. The power in her home had gone out that morning, leaving her with only her car radio.
“My cell didnt work, my house phone didnt work, nothing. Nothing except for me crawling into my car,” Bonini said from her daughters home in Chico. “If I wouldnt have heard them two blocks down, I wouldnt have known I had to evacuate.”
Associated Press writers Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, also contributed to this report.