Expected rains could hinder search for California wildfire victims

Lidia Steineman, who lost her home, prays during a vigil for the lives and community lost to the Camp Fire at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, California, November 18, 2018. Noah Berger/Pool via REUTERS

By Jonathan Allen and Nick Carey

(Reuters) – Heavy rains are expected in northern California on Tuesday, raising the risk of mudslides and hindering the search for more victims of the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history as nearly 1,000 people remain listed as missing.

Remains of 79 victims have been recovered since the Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8 and largely obliterated the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

The missing persons list kept by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office still has 993 names on it. That number has fluctuated dramatically over the past week as additional people were reported missing, or as some initially listed as unaccounted for either turn up alive or are identified among the dead.

Sheriff Kory Honea has said some people have been added to the list more than once at times under variant spellings of their names.

As of Monday, the fire has torched more than 151,000 acres (61,100 hectares) of parched scrub and trees, incinerating about 12,000 homes along the way, Cal Fire said.

Containment lines have been built around 70 percent of its perimeter, according to the agency.

Efforts to further suppress the flames were likely to benefit from a storm expected to dump as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of rain north of San Francisco between late Tuesday and Friday, said Patrick Burke, a National Weather Service forecaster.

‘MUDDY, MUSHY MESS’

But heavy showers risk setting off mudslides in newly burned areas while also making it more difficult for forensic teams sifting through cinders and debris for additional human remains.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of the California-based consulting company Identifinders International, said rain would turn the site into a “muddy, mushy mess”, slick with wet ash.

Pathologists from the University of Nevada, Reno worked through the weekend as firefighters peeled back debris, collecting bits of burned bones and photographing everything that might help identify victims.

The risk of mudslides could also increase the misery of the evacuees, some of whom are living in tents or camping out of their cars. Residents who only recently were permitted back in homes that survived the fire may be ordered to evacuate again if they live downslope from badly burned areas.

Intense fire over the slopes of canyons, hills and mountains makes them more prone to landslides, by burning away vegetation and organic material that normally holds soil in place. The fire also creates a hard, waxy surface that tends to repel rather than absorb water.

The result can be a heavy runoff of rainwater mixed with mud, boulders, trees and other debris that flows downhill with tremendous force, said Jason Kean, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Those debris flows have the consistency of wet concrete and move faster than you can run,” he said. “It’s like a flood on steroids … and a big one can take out two-story buildings.”

The number of residents needing temporary shelter was unclear, but as many as 52,000 people were under evacuation orders at the height of the firestorm last week.

Nearly 500 miles south of Paradise near Malibu, west of Los Angeles, at least two inches of rain are expected to fall on a second fire, the Woolsey, which has killed three people. That blaze was 94 percent contained by Monday morning.

The cause of both fires is under investigation, but electric utilities reported localized equipment problems around the time they broke out.

PG&E has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by David Stamp)

Survivors find reasons to be thankful after deadly California fire

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin and Sonya Butts shop for new clothing for their son, Landyn, 3, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Most years, Kelly Doty marked Thanksgiving by delivering scores of meals to low-income families with children in the tight-knit Northern California mountain community of Paradise.

But after the Camp Fire all but incinerated the town of nearly 27,000 residents on Nov. 8, killing at least 77 people and leaving almost 1,000 missing, the family resources center where Doty worked as a director had to scrap the annual food drive.

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya's grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya’s grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“All the families are displaced. There’s no houses to deliver boxes to,” Doty, 37, said by telephone from Battle Ground, Washington, where she and her two sons and boyfriend are staying with relatives.

She does not know the whereabouts of the 80 meals that staff at the Paradise Ridge Family Resource Center collected ahead of the holiday, or even if they survived the blaze.

Her house was reduced to rubble by the fire, as were the homes of the center’s three other employees.

Still, Doty said she had plenty to be thankful for. Her family survived and managed to escape with belongings such as family photos and children’s clothing. Many of her neighbors fled with only the clothes on their backs.

“I feel like I still have a lot,” Doty said.

In a twist, she said they were the ones receiving charity this year. During a visit to a Battle Ground pizza restaurant last week, the owner discovered they were Camp Fire evacuees and gave them a $100 gift card and $50 bottle of wine.

The band playing that night passed a tip jar around the room on their behalf, too. “It was just incredible, these people didn’t know us and they were donating money to us,” Doty said.

TURKEY IN THE PARK

For years in Chico, a few miles (km) west of Paradise, a 59-year-old homeless woman named “Mama” Rose Adams has served a Thanksgiving meal for homeless people in a park. She and her helpers buy some of the food from money they raise recycling, while the rest is donated by friends and family.

On Sunday, she was serving 17 roasted turkeys at an event advertised on social media and flyers around town. She was encouraging evacuees from the wildfire to attend since they are now homeless too.

“I’m sure a lot of them are uncomfortable now,” Adams said at the park where a few dozen people sat at picnic tables to eat. “A lot of them don’t have places to cook or eat.”

Among the displaced in Chico was Sonya Butts, her twin sister, Tonya Boyd, and their families. They had been among those hoping for a Thanksgiving meal parcel from Doty’s center.

The Camp Fire may have taken her home, her job and her town, Butts said, but it left her with the things that matter most to her.

“Being alive, knowing my husband and my kids got out alive, that’s all I ever wanted,” Butts, 28, said by phone from a Red Cross evacuation shelter at Bidwell Junior High School.

Butts, her sister and their families are lucky to be alive after a harrowing escape. They fled in a four-car caravan as the wildfire all but surrounded them, eventually reaching Chico where they watched their hometown burn in the hills behind them.

Still, Butts counts her blessings.

“Everything else can be replaced,” she said. “My family cannot.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Close to 1,000 still missing after deadliest California wildfire

Laura Martin mourns her father, TK Huff, during a vigil for the lives and community lost to the Camp Fire at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, California, November 18, 2018. Noah Berger/Pool via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

(Reuters) – Emergency services on Sunday sifted through the charred wreckage of California’s deadliest ever wildfire, searching for signs of nearly 1,000 people believed still missing as crews made progress in bringing the blaze under control.

The remains of 77 people have been recovered, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said late on Sunday, as it cut the number of missing to 993 from 1,276. It gave no other details.

The Camp Fire broke out in Northern California on Nov. 8 and last week all but obliterated Paradise, a mountain town of nearly 27,000 people around 90 miles (145 km) north of state capital Sacramento.

Officials said it had consumed about 150,000 acres and was 65 percent contained late on Sunday, up from 60 percent earlier in the day, as prospects of a heavy rainstorm from late Tuesday onwards raised hopes that percentage will rise as the week progresses.

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

They said full containment was not expected until Nov. 30, however.

Up to four inches (10 cm) of rain are forecast to fall north of San Francisco between late Tuesday and Friday, said Patrick Burke, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

“This weather system is locked in,” he said.

The rain would also make it harder for forensic teams sifting through ash and dirt looking for the bones of the dead. “The rain will easily disturb the soil where remains might be found,” Burke said.

Pathologists from the University of Nevada, Reno, worked through the weekend as firefighters peeled back debris, collecting bits of burned bones and photographing everything that might help identify the victims.

The storm, which is expected to carry moderate winds of 15-20 mph could also cause problems for evacuees, hundreds of whom are sheltering in tents and cars.

It isn’t clear how many people are in need of shelter but as many as 52,000 people had been ordered to evacuate

“While it isn’t an exceptionally strong storm, the recent burns make mudslides on hills and slopes a real danger,” Burke said.

South of Sacramento near Malibu, at least two inches of rain are expected to fall on a second fire, the Woolsey. Known to have killed three people, it was 88 percent contained on Sunday and full containment was expected on Thanksgiving Thursday.

The cause of both fires is under investigation, but electric utilities reported localized equipment problems around the time they broke out.

PG&E Corp has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by John Stonestreet)

Families anxious to learn fate of hundreds missing in California fire

A cadaver dog named Echo searches for human remains near a van destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Family members and survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history sought news on Friday on the missing 630 people – 10 times the number of confirmed dead – from the fast-moving blaze that reduced much of the town of Paradise to ash and charred rubble.

With nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned, refugees from the fire have taken up residence in tents or their vehicles and filled evacuation centers to overflowing. Search teams, meanwhile, are combing through burned-out areas looking for bodies – or anything else that might carry human DNA for identification purposes.

Members of a volunteer search and rescue team from Marin County search for human remains in a car destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Members of a volunteer search and rescue team from Marin County search for human remains in a car destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The number of people unaccounted for after the fire has fluctuated all week and officials have warned those numbers are almost certain to change day by day. In some cases, those unaccounted for have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities that they are alive, or relatives may not yet have reported people missing. Poor cell phone coverage after the fire has also made communications difficult.

Last weekend, the Butte County Sheriff’s office initially put the total of missing people at 228, many of whom have now been accounted for. But as fresh reports from relatives caused the list to rise to 130 from 103 late Wednesday, 297 by Thursday morning and 630 as of Thursday night.

On Friday morning the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the death toll in the fire held at 63 overnight. The blaze, named the Camp Fire, was now 45 percent contained, up from 35 percent on Thursday, even though it had grown slightly to 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares).

The fire – which roared through Paradise, a town of 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, on Nov. 8 – is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.

Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Weather conditions now are helping the firefighting effort, Nick Pimlott, a Cal Fire engineer, told KRCR TV. He said the winds had died down, allowing crews around Lake Oroville to the southeast of Paradise to construct fresh lines to contain the fire.

Many on the missing list are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors have long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.

Brandon DuVall of Seattle said he last communicated with his retired father, Robert DuVall, in July after his father had bought a new pickup and camper. He received a call earlier this week that his father’s remains might have been found and now will go to California to provide a DNA sample.

Relatives of retired U.S. Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began, and relatives’ phone calls have gone directly to his voicemail.

On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.

“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, told Reuters by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”

Pictures of people missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire are posted at an evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Pictures of people missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire are posted at an evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

‘WHY AM I HERE?’

Some in Paradise were experiencing survivors’ guilt. “You’re like, ‘Why am I here?'” Sam Walker, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paradise, told WBUR radio. “‘Why is my family all here? Why are our churches still standing?’ I don’t know. My house is gone, like so many others.”

Thousands of additional structures remain threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, try to contain and suppress the flames.

There have been other smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles. It was 57 percent contained.

Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are ascribable to drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Two electric utilities say they sustained equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Critics say Trump politicized the fires by blaming them, without supporting evidence, on bad forest mismanagement by California, a largely Democratic state. Trump had threatened to withhold federal assistance.

Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread far and wide. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (145 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes for Friday due to poor air quality.

Many of those who survived the flames but lost homes stayed with friends or relatives or at American Red Cross shelters.

Some of Paradise’s older residents who had lost their homes were concerned about where they would live.

“I’m just very hopeful I can work something out for the future,” Norris Godsey, 82, told the San Francisco Chronicle at a church evacuation center in Chico. “If that’s not possible, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Nick Carey and Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool)

Toll of dead, missing rises in wildfire-ravaged California town

Pictures of people missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire are posted at an evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Teams of rescue workers continued to sift through burned homes and vehicles on Friday for the remains of victims in the northern California town of Paradise, as the number of those missing in the state’s deadliest wildfire spiked to 630 people.

Karen Atkinson, of Marin, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, Echo, in a van destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Karen Atkinson, of Marin, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, Echo, in a van destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

At least 63 people were killed in and around Paradise, which was virtually destroyed by the Camp Fire that erupted a week ago in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco. The fire is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.

Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said on Thursday the remains of seven further victims had been located since Wednesday’s tally of 56. Nearly 300 people reported missing have been found alive and the list of missing would fluctuate, he said.

Many of those listed as missing during the course of the last week are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors had long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.

Relatives of retired U.S. Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began, and relatives’ phone calls have gone directly to his voicemail.

On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.

“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, told Reuters by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

Thousands of additional structures remain threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, labor to contain and suppress the flames.

Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

DNA SAMPLES

Sheriff Honea has asked relatives of the missing to submit DNA samples to hasten identification of the dead. But he said some of those unaccounted for may never be identified.

There have been other smaller blazes in southern California, including the Woolsey Fire that is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.

Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are linked to drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Two electric utilities say they sustained equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Critics say Trump politicized the fires by blaming them, without supporting evidence, on forest mismanagement by California, a largely Democratic state.

Trish Moutard (C), of Sacramento, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, I.C., in a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Trish Moutard (C), of Sacramento, searches for human remains with her cadaver dog, I.C., in a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Cal Fire said 40 percent of the Camp Fire’s perimeter was contained, up from 35 percent, even as the blaze footprint grew 2,000 acres to 141,000 acres (57,000 hectares). The Woolsey fire was 57 percent contained.

Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread far and wide. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (145 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes for Friday due to poor air quality.

Many of those who survived the flames but lost homes stayed with friends or relatives or at American Red Cross shelters.

Some of Paradise’s older residents who had lost their homes were concerned about where they would live.

“I’m just very hopeful I can work something out for the future,” Norris Godsey, 82, told the San Francisco Chronicle interview at a church evacuation center in Chico. “If that’s not possible, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Nick Carey; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bernadette Baum)

Troops search ruins as California wildfire death toll climbs to 56

An anthropologist (R) examines the remains of a dog found in a bathtub in a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – U.S. National Guard troops fanned out to scour the ruins of the devastated town of Paradise on Thursday for remains of victims as 130 people remained listed as missing in California’s deadliest wildfire on record, whose death toll has risen to 56.

The “Camp Fire” blaze last Thursday obliterated the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, once home to 27,000 people. Most of the missing in and around Paradise, which lies about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, are aged over 65.

The surface area of the fire had grown to 138,000 acres (56,000 hectares) by late Wednesday evening, even as diminished winds and rising humidity helped firefighters shore up containment lines around more than a third of the perimeter.

The National Guard contingent, 50 military police officers, has joined dozens of search-and-recovery workers and at least 22 cadaver dogs.

More than 9,000 firefighters and other personnel from many U.S. states are fighting the Camp Fire and the “Woolsey Fire” hundreds of miles to the south.

Paradise’s ghostly expanse of empty lots covered in ash and strewn with twisted wreckage and debris made a strong impression on Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials who toured the devastation on Wednesday.

“This is one of the worst disasters I’ve seen in my career, hands down,” Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters in nearby Chico.

Given the scale of the destruction in Paradise, some residents are weighing whether they can ever return.

“At this point, I’m taking it day-to-day,” Jeff Hill, who has been staying with relatives in nearby Chico since his home burned down, told NBC News. “There are no stores left, no restaurants, nothing.”

“It’s not even habitable,” he added.

At an evacuation center south of Paradise in Oroville that is so full that some people are sleeping in cars or tents, Nanette Benson, said her future is uncertain.

“We don’t know where the hell we’re going to go,” she told KRCR TV.

An anthropologist (R) examines the remains of a dog found in a bathtub in a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

An anthropologist (R) examines the remains of a dog found in a bathtub in a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“CRITICALLY DRY VEGETATION”

The blaze, fueled by thick, drought-desiccated scrub, has capped two back-to-back catastrophic wildfire seasons in California that scientists largely attribute to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Authorities attributed the high number of casualties to the staggering speed with which the fire struck Paradise. Wind-driven flames roared through town so swiftly that residents were forced to flee for their lives.

Although the high winds that fueled the fires have eased, Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told reporters late Wednesday that vegetation around the Camp Fire remained “critically dry.”

“We still have conditions that could produce new and damaging fires,” he said. “We are not letting out eye off this ball at all.”

Lawyers for some wildfire victims claimed in a lawsuit filed this week that lax equipment maintenance by an electric utility caused the fire, which officially remains under investigation.

The Butte County disaster coincided with blazes in Southern California, especially the Woolsey Fire, which has killed at least two people, destroyed more than 500 structures and displaced 200,000 people west of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the body of a possible third victim was found. Cal Fire officials said that blaze was 52 percent contained as of Wednesday night.

The remains of eight more fire victims were found on Wednesday, raising the official number of fatalities to 56, far above the previous record from a single wildfire in California – 29 people killed by the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933.

The Camp Fire also stands as one of the deadliest U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century. More than 80 people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the northern Rockies in August 1910, incinerating 3 million acres.

(GRAPHIC: Deadly California fires, https://tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui)

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Nick Carey; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Steve Orlofsky)

California wildfire victims sue utility PG&E alleging negligence

A Pacific Gas & Electric lineman cuts a downed power line during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

(Reuters) – Victims of California’s deadliest wildfire have filed a lawsuit against PG&E Corp alleging negligence and health and safety code violations by the utility company in the blaze that has killed at least 48 people.

The lawsuit seeking damages against California’s largest public utility was filed on Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court by three law firms, which refer to themselves as Northern California Fire Lawyers.

“It’s important to remember that the cause (of the “Camp Fire”) has yet to be determined,” PG&E said in a statement. “Right now, our primary focus is on the communities, supporting first responders and getting our crews positioned and ready to respond when we get access so that we can safely restore gas and electricity to our customers.”

The Camp Fire, which began last Thursday, has all but wiped out the Sierra foothills town of Paradise in Butte County, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, that was overrun by flames and largely incinerated.

But both PG&E and Southern California Edison have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas around the time the blazes were first reported.

The lawsuit alleged that PG&E failed to properly maintain, repair and replace its equipment and that “its inexcusable behavior contributed to the cause of the ‘Camp Fire.'”

The lawsuit alleges that prior to the Camp Fire, PG&E began warning customers it might turn off power because of the high risk of wildfires.

“Despite its own recognition of these impending hazardous conditions, on the day of the Camp Fire’s ignition, PG&E ultimately made the decision not to proceed with its plans for a power shutoff,” the lawsuit stated.

Last month PG&E cut off electric power to about 60,000 customers to prevent wildfires as high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Searchers looking for the remains of victims in the charred ruins of Paradise were set to expand their operation on Wednesday as firefighters stepped up efforts to contain the blaze.

The origins of the “Camp Fire” and the “Woolsey Fire” that has ravaged parts of southern California are still under investigation.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told KRCR television on Wednesday that attributing the fire to PG&E at this point was “speculative.”

But he added that officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) arrived in the area immediately after the fire began to ensure that any equipment or other evidence would be preserved for an investigation.

PG&E stock slid 22.8 percent to $25.25.

PG&E’s bonds have weakened broadly after the California electric utility said late Tuesday it had borrowed more than $3 billion from its credit facilities. It also warned it might face liabilities stemming from the Camp Fire that could exceed its insurance coverage.

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Search grows for victims of California’s deadliest wildfire

A volunteer search and rescue crew from Calaveras County comb through a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – The search for remains of victims in the charred ruins of the northern California town of Paradise was set to expand on Wednesday, while firefighters stepped up efforts to contain the state’s deadliest-ever wildfire.

A National Guard contingent of 100 military police trained to seek and identify human remains will reinforce coroner-led recovery teams, cadaver dogs and forensic anthropologists already scouring the ghostly landscape, left by a fire that has killed at least 48 people.

Two hundred twenty-eight had been listed as missing, but on Tuesday night local county sheriff Kory Honea said those numbers were highly fluid as some individuals may simply have fallen out of touch during chaotic evacuations.

A Cal Fire firefighter walks between homes destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A Cal Fire firefighter walks between homes destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The grim search is concentrated in the little that is left of Paradise, a Sierra foothills town in Butte County, California, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, that was overrun by flames and largely incinerated last Thursday.

The killer “Camp Fire,” fed by drought-desiccated scrub and fanned by strong winds, has capped a catastrophic California wildfire season that experts largely attribute to prolonged dry spells that are symptomatic of global climate change.

Wind-driven flames roared through Paradise so swiftly last week that residents were forced to flee for their lives with little or no warning.

Anna Dise, a resident of Butte Creek Canyon west of Paradise, told KRCR TV that her father, Gordon Dise, 66, was among those who died in the fire. They had little time to evacuate and their house collapsed on her father when he went back in to gather belongings.

Dise said she could not drive her car because the tires had melted. To survive, she hid overnight in a neighbor’s pond with her dogs.

Forensic investigators search a community swimming pool for victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Noel Randewich

Forensic investigators search a community swimming pool for victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Noel Randewich

“It (the fire) was so fast,” Dise said. “I didn’t expect it to move so fast.”

The Butte County disaster coincided with a flurry of blazes in Southern California, most notably the “Woolsey Fire,” which has killed two people, destroyed more than 400 structures and at its height displaced about 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills west of Los Angeles.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and California Governor Jerry Brown were scheduled on Wednesday to pay a visit to both of the sites, which President Donald Trump declared disaster areas, making federal emergency assistance more readily available.

The fatality count of 48 from the Camp Fire far exceeds the previous record for the greatest loss of life from a single wildfire in California history – 29 people killed by the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933.

The origins of both fires are under investigation. Utility companies, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric reported to regulators they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas around the time the blazes were first reported.

Aided by diminished winds and rising humidity levels, fire crews had managed by late Tuesday to carve containment lines around more than a third of both fires, easing further the immediate threat to life and property.

On one small section of the fire containment lines in Butte County that crews have been erecting around the Camp Fire, wind conditions were actually helping those efforts early Wednesday morning.

Speaking to KRCR TV early Wednesday in the Feather River Canyon to the northeast of Chico, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) official Josh Campbell said strong wind gusts in the canyon of up to 30 miles per hours (50 km) were actually helping local crews by slowing the spread of the fire.

“This gives us the opportunity to construct our lines, so we can be ready for the fire and put it out,” he said.

Butte County Sheriff Honea said in some cases victims were burned beyond recognition.

More than 50,000 people remain under evacuation orders.

(GRAPHIC: Deadly California fires, https://tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui)

(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich and Sharon Bernstein in Paradise and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; editing by David Stamp)

Deadly California wildfire grows as teams sift through ashes for remains

A volunteer search and rescue crew from Calaveras County comb through a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Noel Randewich and Sharon Bernstein

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Convoys of fire engines rumbled through the smoldering northern California town of Paradise on Tuesday on their way to combat still-active sections of the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in history, which grew by 8,000 acres.

Teams of workers wielding chainsaws cleared downed power lines and other obstacles from the streets, while forensics teams mobilized to resume their search for human remains in the charred wreckage of the Butte County town of 27,000, which was almost completely consumed by fire last Thursday, just hours after the blaze erupted.

FILE PHOTO: Ken's Automotive Service repair shop lies in ruins after wildfires devastated the area in Paradise, California, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Ken’s Automotive Service repair shop lies in ruins after wildfires devastated the area in Paradise, California, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein/File Photo

The “Camp Fire” continued to rage in Butte County, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, and expanded to 125,000 acres (50,500 hectares), more than four times the area of the city, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. It was 30 percent contained.

The death toll stood at 42 people, the most on record from a California wildfire. More than 7,600 homes and other structures burned down, also an all-time high.

Some 228 people are still unaccounted for and listed as missing. Officials asked relatives and friends to keep checking with evacuation shelters and call centers in the hope many of them could be located.

On a residential street in Paradise lined with burned down houses, a team of 10 rescue and forensic workers wearing white suits and helmets used a dog to search for victims.

“Look for skulls, the big bones,” one forensics worker said to others as they used metal poles and their hands to sift through the remains of a house.

Another found a firearm and marked it for later removal.

Across the street, two rescue workers in red led a dog around a burnt-out car and through the foundation of a house.

One hundred fifty search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive in the area on Tuesday, bolstering 13 coroner-led recovery teams in the fire zone, said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

The sheriff has requested three portable morgue teams from the U.S. military, a “disaster mortuary” crew, cadaver dog units to locate human remains and three groups of forensic anthropologists.

 

A firefighter extinguishes a hot spot in a neighbourhood destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A firefighter extinguishes a hot spot in a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Some 52,000 people remained under evacuation orders and 8,700 firefighters from 17 states have been battling the wildfires.

In Southern California, two people died in the separate “Woolsey Fire,” which has destroyed 435 structures and displaced about 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near Southern California’s Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.

The Woolsey Fire was 35 percent contained, up from 30 percent a day earlier, Cal Fire said.

The fires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties burned 96,000 acres (39,000 hectares), roughly the size of Denver and the largest in the area’s 100-year recorded history, officials said, even though air tankers have dropped nearly 1 million gallons (37,000 hectoliters) of fire retardant and 22 helicopters have dropped 1.5 million gallons of water on the fire.

“It is truly heartbreaking,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell told a news conference. “Hundreds (of homes) still sit in ruins. We fully understand that each house is a home.”

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said he was hopeful that forecast rainfall next week would help, though it might also provoke landslides.

Four communities were reopened to previously evacuated residents, a sign that firefighters were getting the upper hand, Osby said.

“We’re doing all that we can to allow people to go back home when it’s safe,” Osby said. “I can’t even relate to being evacuated this long. But we will let you go back home when it’s safe.”

President Donald Trump on Monday night declared a major disaster exists from the fires, making federal funds available to people and local government agencies in Butte, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties.

The pledge came two days after Trump blamed the brush fires on forest mismanagement, tweeting “Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

He struck a more sympathetic tone while speaking from the White House on Tuesday.

“We mourn the lives of those lost and we pray for the victims,” Trump said while thanking first responders. “We will do everything in our power to support and protect our fellow citizens in harm’s way.”

For a graphic on Deadly California fires, see – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui

(Reporting by Noel Randewich and Sharon Bernstein; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker)

Search for bodies, answers after California wildfire kills 42

A home destroyed by the Woolsey Fire is seen in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Sharon Bernstein and Noel Randewich

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Search teams were set to sift through the charred wreckage of Paradise, California, on Tuesday in the search of human remains as authorities investigated the cause of state’s deadliest-ever wildfire.

A firefighter battles the Peak fire in Simi Valley, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

A firefighter battles the Peak fire in Simi Valley, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The “Camp Fire” blaze, still raging in northern California, has killed at least 42 people and left 228 others listed as missing.

Another two people died in the separate “Woolsey Fire,” which has destroyed 435 structures and displaced about 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near Southern California’s Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.

Authorities are probing the cause of the fires. A spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission told the Chico Enterprise-Record on Monday the regulator has launched investigations that may include an inspection of the fire sites once the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) allows.

The Camp Fire – California’s most destructive on record – has consumed more than 7,100 homes and other buildings since igniting on Thursday in Butte County’s Sierra foothills, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

One hundred fifty search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive on Tuesday, bolstering 13 coroner-led recovery teams in the fire zone, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.

Cafe tables and umbrellas stand idle as the remains of Mama Celeste's Gastropub and Pizzeria lies in ruins after wildfires devastated the area in Paradise, California, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

Cafe tables and umbrellas stand idle as the remains of Mama Celeste’s Gastropub and Pizzeria lies in ruins after wildfires devastated the area in Paradise, California, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

Honea has requested three portable morgue teams from the U.S. military, a “disaster mortuary” crew, cadaver dog units to locate human remains and three groups of forensic anthropologists.

Firefighting crews have carved containment lines around 30 percent of the Camp Fire perimeter, an area encompassing 117,000 scorched acres.

Nearly 9,000 firefighters have been battling the wildfires. Cal Fire said that 16 other states, including Oregon, Texas, Missouri, and Georgia, have sent fire crews or other resources to combat the fires.

Most of the Camp Fire’s destruction and deaths occurred in and around Paradise, a town of nearly 27,000 people that was virtually destroyed overnight Thursday, just hours after the blaze erupted. Some 52,000 people remained under evacuation orders, Sheriff Honea said.

Authorities said on Monday they found the bodies of 13 more victims, bringing the total killed by the Camp Fire to 42.

This makes it California’s deadliest ever wildfire, surpassing the death toll of 29 in the 1933 Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles.

PG&E Corp, which operates in northern California, and Edison International, the owner of Southern California Edison Co, have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas where fires were reported around the time they started.

Speaking to KRCR TV early Tuesday, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said prior to the outbreak of the Camp Fire, the site had not been “an area we were looking as a potential shut-off area.”

More than 15,000 structures were threatened by the Camp Fire on Monday in an area where smoke had reduced visibility to under half a mile in some places.

To the south, Woolsey Fire has blackened nearly 94,000 acres and was also 30 percent contained as of Monday night, according to Cal Fire.

Winds of up to 40 miles per hour (60 km per hour) were expected to continue in Southern California through Tuesday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes ignited by scattered embers. Cal Fire said 57,000 structures were still in harm’s way from the Woolsey Fire.

Some evacuees in Malibu, a seaside community whose residents include a number of Hollywood celebrities, were allowed to return home Monday but found themselves without power or cell phone service.

California has recently endured two of the worst wildfire seasons in its history, a situation experts attribute in large part to prolonged drought across much of the western United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Peter Graff and Steve Orlofsky)