Fifty-six people have died in the Camp fire, authorities said on Wednesday after they tracked down an additional eight sets of remains outside and in the rubble of homes in Paradise.
The majority of victims, 47 in total, have been tentatively identified by authorities, the Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea, said, but they are awaiting DNA confirmation. Some remains may never be recovered due to the extent of the fire.
Two people have also died in the Woolsey fire, a major blaze around Los Angeles, and authorities said earlier on Wednesday that they were investigating a third apparent fire-related death in the burn zone in the south of the state.
In northern California, rapid DNA identification units are currently en route to the area affected by the Camp fire, Honea said, and additional search and rescue staff arrived on Wednesday to aid in recovery of remains, bringing the total to more than 460 personnel and 22 cadaver dogs.
Meanwhile, firefighters managed to hold containment of the blaze, which grew to 216 sq miles on Wednesday, at 35%. As they battled the fire in steep terrain along the Feather River Canyon, the governor, Jerry Brown, visited the area, which he described as a “war zone”, with the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) chief, Brock Long.
“It’s one of the worst disasters that I’ve seen in my career hands down,” Long said.
Fema set up shop in the area to aid the more than 52,000 forced to evacuate because of the fire, which is the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history. The blaze has destroyed 8,650 homes and 106 multi-family residences, the total structures destroyed is 10,321.
Authorities are investigating an officer-involved shooting within the Camp fire evacuation zone that occurred just after 11am Thursday. Information about the shooting and circumstances that led to the incident has not yet been released.
Several people without permission to be in the restricted area have been detained by authorities in recent days. Police have arrested at least six people suspected of looting.
Firefighters continue to battle the blaze, and rain is at last in the forecast next week.
About 1,300 people are staying in shelters, which this week saw an outbreak of norovirus, while others are sleeping outside and in cars. Shelters will remain open as long as people are displaced, a Butte county spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The damage is immense. Long said: “You’re not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was.” While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, some victims have sued PG&E for the fire, accusing the utility of negligence, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities on Wednesday began allowing some to return to the area under evacuation; livestock owners were permitted to enter restricted area to feed their animals.
About 130 people remain unaccounted for, and authorities have released a list of the missing that includes more than 100 people, the vast majority of whom are seniors, many in their 70s and 80s, as well as couples and family members. The oldest is 95; the youngest is 21.
About a quarter of Paradise, which until last week was home to about 27,000, are aged 65 and over. Some, like Ernest Foss, 65, who was one of the first fire victims named by authorities, were disabled, and some in the rural community lived without transportation, phones or internet connections.
“Historically the town of Paradise has had a higher population of retirees and elderly folks,” the police chief, Eric Reinbold, said. “There are some elderly folks that have given up driving and they rely on public transportation, they could have had transportation issues.”
Not on the list of the missing are Barbara Carlson and Shirley Haley. The sisters, aged 71 and 67, respectively, lived together in a home in Paradise with a dog called Strawberry they shared.
While authorities have not yet publicly confirmed their deaths, Carlson’s granddaughter, Annika, said officials told the family that two sets of remains were found in the house they shared on Heavenly Place. Both women were in good health. They had access to a car, cellphones and knew about the fire, and the family doesn’t know why they didn’t leave, or if they couldn’t.
Questions remain, but the family is focused on remembering the sisters, Barbara, a quiet bookworm with three children and seven grandchildren who moved to Paradise after her husband of more than 30 years died, and Shirley, a devoutly religious woman who came to the area in the 90s after a career in the medical field.
“Barbara Carlson and Shirley Haley were two loved victims of the Camp fire,” Annika wrote on social media.
The president, Donald Trump, who had earlier criticized California officials’ “poor management” over the fires, struck a more supportive tone on Wednesday, saying the nation appreciated the firefighters’ and other responders’ “heroism, courage and genius”.
The Los Angeles county sheriff’s department said on Wednesday that human remains were found in a burned home in the suburban Agoura Hills area of the county.
The coroner’s spokeswoman, Sarah Ardalani, said she was unable to confirm whether the body was burned or if the death was related to the fire. Two deaths were previously linked to the Woolsey fire, which started last Thursday. A pair of adults were found last week in a car overtaken by flames. They have not been identified.
The Woolsey fire is 47% contained, authorities said, and covers 97,620 acres (about 150 square miles).
In a press conference on Tuesday, fire and law enforcement officials from LA and Ventura counties said the danger from the giant Woolsey fire was “far from over”.
Saying that this fire had already surpassed the most destructive fire in the county’s history going back over 100 years, the Los Angeles county fire chief, Daryl Osby, told reporters that more than 435 homes had been destroyed and that number was expected to rise.
“We are still concerned about the safety of our citizens,” he said. Osby said protecting life was their main objective, followed by saving structures and containing and extinguishing the fire.
The Cal Fire deputy chief, Nick Schuler, said 500 new fires had burned more than 225,000 acres across the state and more than 8,700 firefighters were still battling flames statewide.
The area remains under red flag warning through Wednesday, as the dry, gusty, Santa Ana wind conditions continue to cause erratic fire behavior and fast-moving flames. Issued by the NWS, the designation is also intended to warn residents to remain vigilant.
In wealthy Malibu, surfers made their way to a yacht to collect supplies for residents.
Rain is expected next week, which could help cool the smoldering areas and help firefighters control and contain the fire. But, officials said, on fire-damaged hillsides, hard rains can quickly turn into deadly mudslides.
There are also concerns that citizens trying to access their homes in evacuation areas may put themselves at risk. The Los Angeles county sheriff, Jim McDonnell, said during the press conference that he empathized with residents eager to get back into their homes or assess their damage, but warned them to trust authorities.
The fire “destroyed the deep infrastructure that makes a city a city”, he said, emphasizing that the fire burned hotter and faster than any firestorm seen before in the area. Water lines, sewers, roads, and services were all affected. “There are real health hazards from toxic burning smoke,” he added, along with the danger of wind carrying flames back toward burned areas.