By Lee van der Voo
CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) -At least 88 people have been killed and 196 people are listed as missing three weeks after the deadliest wildfire in California history torched a small mountain community leaving it in smoldering ruins, authorities said on Wednesday.
The Camp Fire, which began on Nov. 8, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned nearly 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares), an area five times the size of San Francisco, in and around the town of Paradise, a northern California community of 27,000 people.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said on Wednesday he was optimistic that some of the 196 people listed as missing could still be alive.
“That said, as we move into repopulating these areas and allowing people to go into the areas, it is possible that some will find bones or bone fragments,” he told reporters, adding that authorities have ended their search for victims.
The number of people on the list of missing has fluctuated. People who were believed missing have been found in shelters or staying in hotels or with friends, authorities said.
Three people were removed from the list of missing on Wednesday when they were found in an RV park, the sheriff said.
Some 35 people who were killed in the fire have been identified through DNA and other forensics while another 47 have been tentatively identified. Six remain unidentified, the sheriff said.
Fire officials said they reached full containment of the fire on Sunday. Investigators have yet to determine the cause.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie)