Searchers in California wildfire step up efforts; 77 dead

Trump arrived at the oceanside conclave Saturday afternoon after visiting Northern California to survey the wildfire damage in the town of Paradise.

President Donald Trump spends a moment with his thoughts while touring damage from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

President Donald Trump spends a moment with his thoughts while touring damage from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

Volunteers in white coveralls, hard hats and masks poked through ash and debris Sunday, searching for the remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire before rains forecast this week complicate their efforts.

While the predicted downpours could help tamp down blazes that have killed 77 people so far, they also could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

A team of 10 volunteers went from burned house to burned house Sunday in the devastated town of Paradise, accompanied by a cadaver dog with a bell on its collar that jingled in the grim landscape.

The members of the team scrutinized the rubble in five-minute sweeps, using sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses. When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange “0” near the house.

Up to 400 people were involved in the overall search and recovery effort. Robert Panak, a volunteer on a different team from Napa County, spent the morning searching homes, but didn’t find any remains.

Asked whether the job was tough, the 50-year-old volunteer said, “I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure.”

He said his approach was to try to picture the house before it burned and think where people might have hidden.

Nearly 1,300 names are on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County, authorities said late Saturday. They stressed that the long roster does not mean they believe all those on the list are missing.

Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded with evacuees to review the list of those reported as unreachable by family and friends and to call the department if those people are known to be safe.

Deputies have located hundreds of people to date, but the overall number keeps growing because they are adding more names, including those from the chaotic early hours of the disaster, Honea said.

“As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible,” he said.

Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze.

On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims at First Christian Church in Chico, where a banner on the altar read, “We will rise from the ashes.”

People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders: “We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now.”

Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes when they receive tips that someone might have died there.

But they are also doing a more comprehensive, “door-to-door” and “car-to-car” search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.

Read more: Death toll rises to 76 in California fire with winds ahead

Read more: Differences between the California and Okanagan fires taken seriously

The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.

The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.

“Here we’re looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches,” he said Friday.

The remains of five more people were found Saturday, including four in Paradise and one in nearby Concow, bringing the number of dead to 77.

Among them was Lolene Rios, 56, whose son, Jed, tearfully told KXTV in Sacramento that his mother had an “endless amount of love” for him.

President Donald Trump toured the area Saturday, joined by California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp barbs with the Republican administration. Trump also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.

“We’ve never seen anything like this in California; we’ve never seen anything like this yet. It’s like total devastation,” Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise and pledged the full support of the federal government.

Soon after the fire began, Trump blamed state officials for poor forest management and threatened to cut off federal funding.

“He’s got our back,” outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president,” Brown said. “But in the face of tragedy, people tend to rise above some of their lesser propensities. So I think we’re on a good path.”

He also suggested California’s severe wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years,” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from fires.

Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph (32 kph) sustained winds and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.

Northern California’s Camp Fire has destroyed about 10,500 homes and torched 233 square miles (603 square kilometres). It was 65 per cent contained.

Honea expressed hope that Trump’s visit would help with recovery, saying the tour by the Republican president and California’s Democratic leaders “signals a spirit of co-operation here that ultimately benefit this community and get us on a path toward recovery.”

___

Associated Press journalists Terence Chea and Jonathan Lemire in Paradise, Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Janie Har and Daisy P. Nguyen in San Francisco contributed.

Sudhin Thanawala, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Lidia Steineman, who lost her home in the Camp Fire, prays during a vigil for fire victims on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Chico, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool)

Lidia Steineman, who lost her home in the Camp Fire, prays during a vigil for fire victims on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Chico, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool)

Just Posted

The Port McNeill Fire Hall. (Port McNeill Fire Rescue photo)
Port McNeill Fire Rescue gets big financial boost from government

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom was thrilled by the funding announcement

The river behind the ball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Pulled by the flow: river stirs up childhood memories

Gazette editor makes trek through Port Hardy wilderness to swim in the river

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Alert Bay council has decided to cancel Canada Day celebrations. (Alertbay.ca photo)
Alert Bay council cancels Canada Day celebrations

The decision was made in wake of the mass graves being found at former residential schools

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Six United Way chapters around the province are merging into United Way B.C. (News Bulletin file photo)
United Way Central and Northern Island merging with other chapters around B.C.

Money raised in communities will stay in those communities, agency says

Golden Ears Mountains, captured in May 2021. (Black Press Media files)
2nd year of day passes required for entry into 5 provincial parks launches in B.C.

Pilot program seeks to protect the environment by addressing visitor surges amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Lincoln Mckoen. (YouTube)
Anglican bishop of the central Interior resigns over sexual misconduct allegations

Lincoln Mckoen was elected as a bishop of the Territory of the People region last year

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)
Tk’emlups preparing for archaeological work at B.C. residential school site where remains found

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still collecting records

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Most Read