California utility probing possibility wires involved in wildfire

(Reuters) – A California utility informed regulators on Thursday that it was investigating whether a devastating wildfire near Malibu last month may have been caused by contact between a wire that provides pole support and a live wire.

Southern California Edison, in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, said it had not found evidence of an energized wire on the ground in the area where the Woolsey Fire was believed to have started on Nov. 8.

It did, however, find a so-called guy wire, which runs from the top of the pole to the ground, near a jumper wire that is used to connect two energized lines.

The utility said it is evaluating whether the guy wire came into contact with the jumper, which could have had the potential to cause the blaze. Some of the equipment is currently being tested by fire officials.

The cause of the fire may not be determined until additional information is available, Edison said.

The Woolsey Fire burned 97,000 acres near the Malibu coast, destroying 1,500 structures and causing three deaths, according to state fire officials.

Southern California Edison is a division of Edison International.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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)

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)

Californians left homeless by wildfire now face heavy rain and mud

Camp Fire evacuees watch 'The Incredibles 2' movie at a Red Cross shelter in Gridley, California, U.S. November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Elijah Nouvelage

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Northern California residents left homeless by the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in state history braced for a new bout of misery on Tuesday from showers expected to plunge encampments of evacuees into rain-soaked fields of mud.

The impending Pacific storm was also certain to hinder search teams sifting through ash and rubble for remains of additional victims in a disaster that already has claimed at least 81 lives and left hundreds more missing.

As much as 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was expected to fall over several days starting early on Wednesday around the town of Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people, many of them retirees, that was largely obliterated by the Camp Fire.

Forecasters said there was a slight risk of rains unleashing rivers of mud and debris down flame-scorched slopes stripped of vegetation by the blaze, which has burned across 151,000 acres (61,107 hectares) of the Sierra foothills north of San Francisco.

But because of mass evacuations still in effect since the fire erupted on Nov. 8, few if any people were believed to be in harm’s way should any debris flows materialize, according to National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologist Cindy Matthews.

She also said due to the volcanic soil and relatively shallow slopes found in the fire zone, the ground is unlikely to become saturated enough for hillsides to give way to landslides that can occur in newly burned areas after heavy rains.

However, authorities in Southern California warned residents in areas burned by a pair of recent large wildfires in the coastal foothills and mountains northwest of Los Angeles to be wary of mud-flow hazards from the same storm this week. One of those blazes, the Woolsey Fire, killed three people.

While the showers will prove a boon to firefighters still laboring to suppress the flames, the storm will heighten the discomfort factor for many displaced residents who are essentially camping rather than staying in emergency shelters.

“There are people still living in tents,” Sacramento-based NWS meteorologist Eric Kurth said in a telephone interview. “That’s certainly not going to be pleasant with the rain, and we might get some wind gusting up to 40 to 45 miles per hour (64 to 72 km per hour).”

‘MUD CITY’

One of those evacuees, Kelly Boyer, lost his home in Paradise and was sharing a tent with a friend at an encampment outside a Walmart store in nearby Chico, where overnight low temperatures have fallen to just above freezing.

Boyer said he was grateful for wooden pallets and plastic tarps donated by local residents to evacuees to help keep their tents off the ground and dry when the rains come, though he said the showers would still make a mess.

“It’s going to be mud city,” he told Reuters.

The rains, however, will help dispel heavy smoke that has lingered in the air.

“We’re really expecting the air quality to improve. That’s the bright side for those people up there,” he said.

Meanwhile, smoke from the recent California wildfires has drifted across the country to the East Coast, where it was widely noticed in the form of a brownish, orange haze in the sky and was credited with unusually vibrant sunsets on Monday.

“So if you thought it was just a bit hazy this afternoon, we have a California smoke plume moving through,” retired NWS meteorologist Gary Szatkowski, who continues to track weather phenomenon from his home in New Jersey, wrote on Twitter.

Most of the transcontinental smoke plume, illustrated on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map he posted on Twitter, was “a couple of miles up” in the atmosphere, high enough to be carried east by the jet stream.

The Camp Fire incinerated some 13,000 homes in and around Paradise, mostly during the first night of the blaze when gale-force winds drove flames through drought-parched scrub and trees into the town with little warning, forcing residents to flee for their lives.

The remains of two more victims were found in a structure in Paradise on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 81. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has tentatively identified 56 of the victims whose remains have so far been recovered.

Meanwhile, the missing-persons list compiled by the sheriff’s office was revised to 870 names late on Tuesday, from a high of more than 1,200 over the weekend.

The number has fluctuated dramatically over the past week as more individuals were reported missing or as some initially listed as unaccounted for either turned up alive or were confirmed dead.

Buffer lines have been carved around 75 percent of the fire’s perimeter and full containment is expected by the end of the month, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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.

The cause of the Camp and Woolsey fires are under investigation but electric utilities reported localized equipment problems around the time both blazes broke out.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Chico, California; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Shumamker)

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)

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)

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)

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)