Rain Barreling Toward Camp Fire Burn Zone as Search for Victims Continues - NBC Southern California

Rain Barreling Toward Camp Fire Burn Zone as Search for Victims Continues

Rain could help douse the flames, but it could also hinder the search by washing away fragmentary remains and turning ash into a thick paste

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rain May Hamper Search for Victims of Camp Fire

    Nearly two weeks after the devastating Camp Fire nearly destroyed the entire town of Paradise, hundreds are still missing. And searchers are now trying to cover as much ground as they can before rain moves in. NBC Bay Area’s Jodi Hernandez reports. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018)

    It's been 12 days since Christina Taft started the frantic search for her mother Victoria, who refused to evacuate their Paradise home as flames neared, and six days since she gave authorities a cheek swab to identify remains that are likely her mother's.

    She still hasn't received confirmation that her mother is dead, and says she's been frustrated by what she feels is a lack of communication from Butte County officials.

    "They said they found remains, they didn't say her remains. They won't confirm it to me the whole time," Taft said Monday.

    With 81 people killed in the nation's deadliest wildfire in at least a century, there are still over 800 names on the list of those unaccounted for. While it's down from nearly 1,000 the day before, it is inexact, progress has been slow, and the many days of uncertainty are adding to the stress.

    CLICK HERE TO FIND THE MISSING PERSONS LIST

    More than a dozen people are marked as "unknowns," without first or last names. In some cases, names are listed twice or more times under different spellings. Others are confirmed dead, and their names simply haven't been taken off yet.

    Survivors and relatives of those caught in the fire in Northern California are using social media to get the word out: In some cases, to post that their loved ones were safe; in others, to plead for help.

    "Aunt Dorothy is still missing. There has been confusion going on at the Sheriffs office regarding her whereabouts because she was taken off the list," a man wrote on Facebook on Monday.

    "I have an uncle and two cousins that I have not been able to make contact with," one woman wrote on Facebook, with their names. "Any info would be appreciated."

    Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said he released the rough and incomplete list in hopes that people would contact authorities to say they are OK. He has called it "raw data" compiled from phone calls, emails and other reports.

    "We put the list out. It will fluctuate. It will go up. It will go down because this is in a state of flux," Honea said Monday. "My view on this has been that I would prefer to get the information out and start working to find who is unaccounted for and who is not. I would put progress over perfection."

    Officials have also culled reports from the earliest hours of the disaster, when fire knocked out mobile phone communications and thousands fled, some to safe shelter that was hundreds of miles away.

    Honea said his office was working with the Red Cross to account for people entering and leaving shelters. Evacuees are also helping authorities narrow the list, sometimes by chance.

    Robert James Miles, who lost his Paradise trailer in the blaze, was staying at a shelter in Chico where people posted names of those they hadn't heard from. Miles said he alerted a Red Cross worker Saturday that he recognized eight names on the board as friends he knew were OK.

    "Two of them were in the shelter," he said with a chuckle.

    Owen and Phyllis Suihkonen understand the chaos. Their family is scattered after they lost their home to the wildfire, as did their two adult children.

    Phyllis Suihkonen, 69, says she spotted the names of two friends on the list of unaccounted people, and doesn't know if they are safe. But her daughter has seen names of friends who are OK and called sheriff's officials to let them know.

    "I'm concerned," Phyllis said. "But like I said, there's been other friends' names on the list that have been accounted for and taken off."

    Meanwhile, those searching for bodies were in a race against the weather, as rain was forecast for Wednesday. The precipitation could help knock out the flames, but it could also hinder the search by washing away fragmentary remains and turning ash into a thick paste.

    The fire, which burned at least 236 square miles and destroyed nearly 12,000 homes, was 75 percent contained on Tuesday.

    Alcatraz Island, San Francisco's cable cars, the Oakland Zoo and other San Francisco Bay Area area attractions were closed Monday because of smoke from the blaze some 140 miles away. Several San Francisco museums over the weekend offered free admission to give people something to do indoors.

    California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said it is "way too early" to estimate the damage done by the wildfire. But for perspective, he said the Northern California fires that gutted 6,800 homes last year resulted in $12.6 billion in insured losses.

    "It's going to be a long and painful process," he said.

    Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press journalists Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, and Paul Elias and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

    CLICK HERE TO FIND THE MISSING PERSONS LIST
    https://www.buttecounty.net/sheriffcoron

    The search for remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines.

     

    Up to 400 people fanned out Sunday to search the ash and rubble where homes once stood before flames roared through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise and surrounding communities, killing at least 77 people in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.

     

    Wearing white coveralls, hard hats and masks, teams of volunteers and search and rescue crews poked through the smoky debris for fragments of bone before rains can wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste. The so-called Camp Fire has destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

     

    A team of 10 volunteers, accompanied by a cadaver dog, went from house to house in the charred landscape. They 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 and moved on.

     

    Robert Panak, a volunteer on a team from Napa County, said he tried to picture the house before it burned and think where people might have hidden. His morning search was fruitless, but he wasn't deterred.

     

    "I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure," Panak said.

     

    Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the "realm of possibility" that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek when rain is forecast.

    Woman, 93, Rescued From Camp Fire by Her Garbageman

    [NATL] Woman, 93, Rescued From Camp Fire by Her Garbageman

    Margaret Newsum, 93, had no idea that the Camp Fire was rapidly approaching her Magalia home until her caretaker left for the day and she turned on the television. She was quickly rescued by her friend Dane Ray Cummings, who decided to break company policy and rescue Newsum with his Waste Management truck. KCRA reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018)

     

    "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," Honea said.

     

    Man Rescues Animals After Wildfire Devastates Paradise, Calif.

    [NATL] Man Rescues Animals After Wildfire Devastates Paradise, Calif.

    Dan Sauvageau and his friends have been rescuing animals in Paradise, California, a town almost entirely destroyed by the Camp Fire.

    (Published Monday, Nov. 12, 2018)

    About 1,000 names remain on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County about 140 miles north of San Francisco, authorities said.

     

    Authorities don't believe all those on the list are missing and the roster dropped by 300 on Sunday as more people were located or got in touch to say they weren't missing.

     

    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 firefighters, rescuers and search teams: "We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now."

     

    Paul Stavish, who retired three months ago from a Silicon Valley computer job and moved to Paradise, placed a battery-powered votive candle on the altar as a woman played piano and sang "Amazing Grace."

     

    Stavish, his wife and three dogs managed to escape the fire, but the house is gone. He said he was thinking of the dead and also mourning the warm, tight-knit community.

     

    "This is not just a few houses getting burned," he said. "The whole town is gone."

     

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

     

    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.

     

    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 death count only grew by one Sunday and firefighters managed to expand containment to 65 percent of the 234 square mile (606 sq. kilometers) burn zone.

     

    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.

     

    Associated Press journalists Christopher Weber and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed.