A sign hangs on a wall at the Paradise Elementary School destroyed by the Camp Fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Wildfire death toll rises in California as search for missing continues

Authorities reported six more fatalities from the Northern California blaze, bringing the total number of dead so far to 48.

A message board at a shelter for the many people who fled California’s deadliest wildfire is filled with photos of the missing, as well as pleas for any information about relatives and friends.

“I hope you are okay,” reads one hand written note on the board filled with white and yellow sheets of notebook paper. Another had a picture of a missing man: “If seen, please have him call.”

Authorities on Tuesday reported six more fatalities from the Northern California blaze, bringing the total number of dead so far to 48. They haven’t disclosed the total number still missing, but earlier in the week that figure was more than 200.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said a list of the missing would be released soon and that 100 National Guard troops would help teams already looking for remains.

“We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can,” he said. “This is a very difficult task.”

As authorities increased efforts, people waited for any word on those still not found.

Greg Gibson was one of the people searching the message board Tuesday, hoping to find information about his neighbours. They’ve been reported missing, but he doesn’t know if they tried to escape or hesitated a few minutes longer than he did before fleeing Paradise, the town of 27,000 which was consumed last Thursday. About 7,700 homes were destroyed.

“It happened so fast. It would have been such an easy decision to stay, but it was the wrong choice,” Gibson said from the Neighbourhood Church in Chico, California.

More than 1,000 people were at shelters set up for evacuees.

Read more: Northern California wildfire is deadliest in state history

Read more: Grim search for more fire victims; 31 dead across California

Inside the church, evacuee Harold Taylor chatted with newfound friends.

Taylor, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane, said he received a call Thursday morning to evacuate immediately. He saw the flames leaping up behind his house, left with the clothes on his back and barely made it out alive.

Along the way, he tried to convince his neighbour to get in his car and evacuate with him, but the neighbour declined. He doesn’t know what happened to his friend.

“We didn’t have 10 minutes to get out of there,” he said. “It was already in flames downtown, all the local restaurants and stuff,” he said.

The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone’s genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

“In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it’s just such a lengthy process,” says Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners’ office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9-11 and is exploring how it might use a rapid DNA device.

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California.

The flames roared to life again in a mountainous wilderness area Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke near the community of Lake Sherwood. Still, firefighters made gains.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he cancelled a trip to Asia and will visit the fire zones Wednesday and Thursday.

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.

People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not immediately returned.

Linda Rawlings was on a daylong fishing trip with her husband and 85-year-old father when the fire broke out.

Her next-door neighbours opened the back gate so her three dogs could escape before they fled the flames and the dogs were picked up several days later waiting patiently in the charred remains of their home, she said.

Rawlings learned on Tuesday morning — after days of uncertainty — that her “Smurf blue” home in Magalia was burnt to the ground.

She sat looking shell-shocked on the curb outside a hotel in Corning.

“Before, you always have hope. You don’t want to give up. But now we know,” she said.

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala, Janie Har, Jocelyn Gecker and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco.

Martha Mendoza And Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Sicamous’ first cannabis store to open June 27

High Mountain Cannabis, located on Finlayson Street, recently received their provincial licence

Seymour Arm road to remain closed until at least early next week

Mudslides close forest service road, repairs can’t be made safely until rain stops

UPDATE: Trans-Canada Highway reopens after fatal collision west of Salmon Arm

Police collision analysis and reconstruction investigating scene of head-on crash

Man charged in Salmon Arm church shooting returns to court

Provincial Court judge allows two-week adjournment in murder, assault changes

Two girls teams and one boys team to play “B Cup” Provincials in July

The U14 Girls, the U13/14 Boys and the U16 Girls have all qualified for provincials

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

UPDATED: Highway 97 near Penticton reopened after serious crash

Accident closes highway in both directions

Kelowna Rocket invited to Hockey Canada National Under-17 Development Camp

The 16-year-old was selected by the Rockets 18th overall at the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft

Fate of accused in Canadian couple’s 1987 killings in jury’s hands

William Talbott’s lawyer says DNA doesn’t prove murder

In photos: Co-op steps up for Shannon Sharp Learning Circle

Armstrong Regional Co-op donates $30,000 through

Okanagan RCMP serve up slices and support for Special Olympics B.C.

Last years inaugural campaign raised more than $12,000

Car window smashed with a bike in Kelowna

A staffer working in the area on the incident says vandalism is a reoccurring problem

Kelowna Mayor’s walking tour of Rutland cancelled

Growing issues surrounding supportive housing leads to rescheduled meeting with concerned resident

Hergott: Moral obligations and your will

Lawyer Paul Hergott discusses wills and moral obligation

Most Read