Number of people believed missing in California wildfire drops to three

FILE PHOTO: Stanley Miniszewski Sr. uses a burnt golf club to look for a pair of expensive dentures in the remains of his RV after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced him to evacuate as his friend Merrill Jackson looks on at Pine Ridge Park in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

(Reuters) – The number of people unaccounted for in California’s deadliest wildfire dropped to just three, down from a high of more than 1,200, officials said late on Monday.

The death toll from the so-called Camp Fire remains at 85, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.

The fire started in November 8 and was fully contained by November 25. It all but obliterated the mountain community of Paradise, home to more than 27,000 people about 175 miles north of San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters move debris while recovering human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters move debris while recovering human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Of the dead, 50 have positively identified and 31 have been tentatively identified, officials said.

No human remains have been found since early December, but the search will continue, officials said.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. The electricity utility PG&E Corp reported equipment problems near the origin of the fire around the time it began.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Parts of ravaged Paradise open for first time since California wildfire

FILE PHOTO: Deer are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Saif Tawfeeq

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Thousands of Paradise residents who fled a monster blaze a month ago were allowed on Wednesday to return to some neighborhoods in the Northern California city nearly obliterated by one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

Tim Moniz, a rice farmer, and welder in his 50s, personally surveyed the remains of his Paradise property for the first time since the fire, confirming his suspicions that his house was gone. He and his wife only recently paid off the mortgage.

“It seems unfair that some houses make it and yours don’t,” Moniz said. “I just had to get back up and see it and try to salvage something.”

Paradise residents who return to their ravaged homes will face a daunting task to resume normal life, with some likely to encounter months or even years of work to obtain compensation for their losses and rebuild.

Authorities hurriedly evacuated some 50,000 people in Paradise and neighboring towns when the Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8. The fire killed at least 85 people with nearly a dozen still unaccounted for. It also destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in the wooded, foothill communities.

Evacuation orders were previously lifted in areas outside Paradise, but Wednesday marked the first day officials opened parts of the city itself in the midst of the fire’s scorched wasteland of 153,000 acres (61,900 hectares).

REBUILDING A RESHAPED TOWN

Moniz said he is among those planning to rebuild, rather than move away.

But the fire’s devastation will reshape the town and – at least initially – lower its population, Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said by telephone.

“All my friends who are in their 80s, they’re just not going to go through this process of rebuilding,” Jones said, adding she believes three-quarters of Paradise residents will rebuild.

Some residents may be able to salvage jewelry or even stuff such as intact tool boxes from the rubble of their houses, said Jones, who lost her own home in the fire.

Some residents rumbled back into town in recreational vehicles, apparently planning to spend the night, Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said by phone.

Authorities said they will let some residents stay overnight on their properties, but advise against it because electricity, gas and other services were not available.

Paradise’s skyline is dotted with 30 large cranes that crews are using to remove debris, said city spokesman Matt Gates.

Health and safety specialists are sweeping through Paradise to remove batteries, propane tanks, household chemicals and other environmental hazards in the aftermath of the fire, Gates said. Residents entering the re-opened areas of town were offered gear to protect themselves from hazardous materials, Reinbold said.

Full removal of debris could take nine months, Jones said.

(Reporting by Saif Tawfeeq; Additional reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Search for remains in California’s deadliest wildfire officially ends

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at a map of the Camp Fire at a Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Lee van der Voo

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Three weeks after flames incinerated most of a Northern California town in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, the search for more human remains has officially ended with at least 88 people confirmed dead and nearly 200 still listed as missing.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said he was optimistic that some who remain unaccounted for will turn up alive, but he also left open the possibility that “bones or bone fragments” of additional victims could turn up as evacuation zones are reopened to civilians.

With the fire reduced to embers, the National Weather Service on Thursday issued a flash-flood warning for the burn zone as showers and thunderstorms heightened the risk of heavy runoff in areas stripped of vegetation by the fire.

At a news conference on Wednesday night, Honea said search and recovery teams had finished combing through the ruins of approximately 18,000 homes and other buildings leveled by the Camp Fire, which ranks as the most destructive in state history.

The bulk of the devastation occurred in and around the hamlet of Paradise, a town once home to nearly 27,000 people, many of them retirees, in the Sierra foothills about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

More than 1,000 personnel, including cadaver dog teams, forensic anthropologists, coroners and National Guard troops from five states, took part in the grim effort.

“I believe that we have done our due diligence with regard to searching for human remains. My sincere hope is that no additional human remains will be located,” Honea told reporters in the nearby town of Chico.

Asked directly whether authorities had ceased actively searching burned structures, the sheriff answered yes.

The current death toll of 88 already stands as the greatest loss of life on record from a single wildfire in California and the most from a wildfire anywhere in the United States dating back to Minnesota’s 1918 Cloquet Fire, which killed as many as 1,000 people. The Camp Fire also exceeds the 87 lives lost in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in 1910.

Authorities attribute the Camp Fire’s high casualty count in large part to the tremendous speed with which flames raced through Paradise with little advance warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.

The remains of many victims were found in the ashen rubble of homes, others inside or near the burned-out wreckage of vehicles.

The cause of the blaze, which was fully contained earlier this week, remained under investigation. But PG&E Corp reported equipment problems near the origin of the fire around the time it began on Nov. 8.

The official roster of people unaccounted for has fluctuated widely from day to day, but as of Wednesday night, the list was winnowed to 196 names, down from a peak of 1,200-plus over a week ago.

The sheriff said the list had since been scrubbed of all duplicate names and that investigators had caught up with a backlog of unprocessed missing-persons reports.

(Reporting by Lee van der Voo in Chico, Calif.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Some 88 killed, 196 missing three weeks after Camp Fire began: sheriff

FILE PHOTO: A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

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)

California wildfire that killed at least 85 people fully contained

FILE PHOTO: Vanthy Bizzle hands some small religious figurines to her husband Brett Bizzle in the remains of their home after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced them to evacuate in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

(Reuters) – The deadliest wildfire in California history that destroyed the mountain town of Paradise and killed at least 85 people was 100 percent contained on Sunday, according to state fire officials.

FILE PHOTO: The word "sorry" is spray painted on the edge of a property burned by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

FILE PHOTO: The word “sorry” is spray painted on the edge of a property burned by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The number of people still missing from the Camp Fire north of San Francisco dropped to 249 on Sunday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said. The number was revised down from 475 as people who were believed missing were found in shelters, staying in hotels or with friends, officials said, adding that many did not know they were on the list.

The Camp Fire that started on Nov. 8 destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned nearly 154,000 acres (62,000 hectares) – an area five times the size of San Francisco.

Searchers will have a few more days of dry weather, but starting late Tuesday, another 2-5 inches (5 to 13 cm) of rain is expected to drop on the Sierra Nevada foothills through next Sunday, hampering the searchers work and renewing fears of flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.

“The fear is that the rain will drop in intense bursts,” Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the federal Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said early Sunday.

“All the vegetation has burned away, and that’s a dangerous recipe for mudslides,” Hurley said.

Last week, 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) of rain fell there and turned ash from the thousands of destroyed homes into slurry, complicating the work of finding bodies reduced to bone fragments.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has warned that remains of some victims may never be found.

The town of Paradise was a popular destination for retirees, with people aged 65 or older accounting for a quarter of its 27,000 residents. Most of the victims of the fire identified so far were of retirement age.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

Thousands of people forced to flee Paradise spent Thanksgiving in warehouses in the nearby city of Chico, or with friends or relatives in nearby towns.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Rain helps douse California fires, but raises landslide risk

Vanthy Bizzle hands some small religious figurines to her husband Brett Bizzle in the remains of their home after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced them to evacuate in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Elijah Nouvelage

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – More rain is forecast for northern California over the weekend, boosting firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the last of the wildfires that have raged there for two weeks, but raises the risk of flash floods and landslides in the scorched Sierra Nevada foothills.

The wet weather is also expected to complicate efforts to locate victims of what is called the Camp Fire, which virtually obliterated the city of Paradise, 175 miles (280 km) northeast of San Francisco, on Nov. 8.

Between 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.5 cm) of rain is expected to fall between Friday and Sunday, adding to the 3 inches that already fell this week, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Flash floods and debris flows will be a particular threat in the wildfire burn areas,” the NWS said in a notice warning of the risk of flash floods through late Friday afternoon. “Heavy rainfall at times is possible over the burn areas with the greatest threat expected today.”

That risk is low for thousands of evacuees who have fled the Camp Fire and are sheltering outside areas prone to mudslides.

At least 84 people died in the Camp Fire which started more than two weeks ago, making it one of the deadliest U.S. wildfires in the last 100 years. Paradise was a popular destination for retirees and two-thirds of the victims named so far were aged over 65.

As many as 560 people are still unaccounted for. That number has fluctuated widely over the past week, hitting a high of more than 1,200 over last weekend.

The fire was 95 percent contained across 154,000 acres, officials said late Thursday.

“All containment lines continued to hold throughout the day with the rain assisting in extinguishing hot spots and smoldering fire,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said late Thursday.

More than 800 volunteers and police officers spent the Thanksgiving holiday combing through the wreckage, searching for the remains of victims killed in the blaze as the ongoing rains looked set to complicate their work.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said the rain would make going through debris more difficult, but he was less concerned about remains washing away than the headaches posed by mud.

He has also warned that as all that remains of victims may be “very small bone fragments,” some of them may never be found.

The county has crews working around the clock laying sand bags and bags of hay to prevent debris from burnt homes being washed into streams and polluting the water supply.

Stanley Miniszewski Sr. uses a burnt golf club to look for a pair of expensive dentures in the remains of his RV after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced him to evacuate as his friend Merrill Jackson looks on at Pine Ridge Park in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Stanley Miniszewski Sr. uses a burnt golf club to look for a pair of expensive dentures in the remains of his RV after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced him to evacuate as his friend Merrill Jackson looks on at Pine Ridge Park in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

“We’re doing everything we can to prepare for this,” Butte County assistant director for public works Radley Ott told KRCR TV.

Hundreds of people forced to flee Paradise spent Thanksgiving in warehouses in the nearby city of Chico. Celebrity chef Jose Andres was among the volunteers bringing some festive cheer by cooking Thanksgiving meals for evacuees.

The cause of the Camp Fire, which destroyed more than 13,500 homes, remains under investigation.

A separate California wildfire – the Woolsey Fire, which killed three people and threatened the wealthy beachfront enclave of Malibu near Los Angeles – was declared 100-percent contained on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Phil Berlowitz)

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)

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)