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Camp Wildfire Death Toll Rises To 42 — Making It The Deadliest Wildfire In California History

John Locher / AP Photo

A firefighter looks through a home destroyed by the Camp Fire where human remains were found, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Paradise, Calif.

John Locher / AP Photo

For a list of evacuations, shelter and resources on official information about the Camp Fire, see our list here.

For ways to assist those affected, see our list of Camp Fire relief organizations here.

Updated Tuesday Nov. 13, 7:02 a.m.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Monday an additional 13 bodies have been uncovered in the Camp Fire, bringing the death toll to 42 and making the wildfire the deadliest in California history.

Honea had no update on the number of missing people but said Sunday that 228 were still unaccounted for since the fire almost completely destroyed Paradise, a town of 27,000, on Thursday.

"This is an unprecedented event," Honea told an evening news conference. "If you've been up there, you also know the magnitude of the scene we're dealing with. I want to recover as many remains as we possibly can, as soon as we can. Because I know the toll it takes on loved ones."

Watch the 6 p.m. Monday Cal Fire press conference here:

 

Authorities said they were bringing in cadaver dogs, two portable morgue units from the military and an additional 160 search and rescue personnel to help find human remains. Cal Fire released a searchable map that residents can use to see the progress of official damage inspection.  

The dead were so badly burned that authorities brought in a mobile DNA lab and consulted forensic anthropologists for help in identifying them.

Increasingly exhausted and dispirited, friends and relatives of the missing called hospitals, police, shelters and the coroner's office in hopes of learning what became of their loved ones. Paradise was a popular retirement community, and about a quarter of the population was over 65.

Tad Teays awaited word on his 90-year-old dementia-stricken mother, who lived about a mile from him in Paradise. And Barbara Hall tried in vain to find out whether her aunt and the woman's husband, who are in their 80s and 90s, made it out of their home in a retirement community in town.

"Did they make it in their car? Did they get away? Did their car go over the edge of a mountain somewhere? I just don't know," said Hall, adding that the couple had only a landline and calls were not going through to it.

Megan James, of Newfoundland, Canada, searched via Twitter from the other side of the continent for information about her aunt and uncle, whose house in Paradise burned down and whose vehicles were still there. On Monday, she asked on Twitter for someone to take over the posts, saying she is "so emotionally and mentally exhausted."

"I need to sleep and cry," James added. "Just PRAY. Please."

Meanwhile, a landowner near where the blaze began, Betsy Ann Cowley, said she got an email from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. the day before the fire last week telling her that crews needed to come onto her property because the utility's power lines were causing sparks. PG&E had no comment on the email, and state officials said the cause of the inferno was under investigation.

There were tiny signs of some sense of order returning to Paradise and also anonymous gestures meant to rally the spirits of firefighters who have worked in a burned-over wasteland for days.

Large American flags stuck into the ground lined both sides of the road at the town limits, and temporary stop signs appeared overnight at major intersections. Downed power lines that had blocked roads were cut away, and crews took down burned trees with chainsaws.

Firefighters limited the growth of the blaze on Monday. Crews dealt with wind gusts up to 40 mph overnight, the flames jumping 300 feet across Lake Oroville. The fire has grown to 125,000 acres and is now 30 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said winds would be dying down Monday while humidity slowly began to rise, assisting the firefight.

"With that moisture in the air and lack of winds, that fire will slow up and that will enable firefighters to get a lot of work close-up to the fire itself," McLean said.

While wind conditions are favorable, there's still not precipitation in the forecast, according to Corey Mueller with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

"We're expecting lighter winds throughout the week, but unfortunately it's going to remain very dry," Muller said. "In past years we'd see some rain in November, so these wind events wouldn't have as much of on impact."

Cal Fire's McLean said efforts Monday would focus on the southeast corner of Lake Oroville, where the fire had been most active. Despite the cold nights, McLean said the public still needs to be vigilant about fire danger.

"The fires are still burning, so we cannot be complacent," he said. "If you live in those rural areas, make sure you still have your go-bag packed and you’re paying attention to the reports and to law enforcement when they say to evacuate now."

Smoke from the Camp wildfire is blanketing Sacramento with dangerously unhealthy smoke. This week the city is distributing free breathing masks, but officials are urging people to stay indoors.

— CapRadio's Julia Mitric contributed to this report

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