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Butte County woman, 71, identified as last victim of North Complex fire

A truck parked amid a stand of trees in Berry Creek, where most of the victims of the North Complex fire lived
A truck parked amid a stand of trees in Berry Creek, where most of the victims of the North Complex fire lived.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times )

Authorities released the name of the 15th victim of the North Complex fire Friday, meaning all those confirmed to have perished in one of California’s deadliest blazes have now been identified.

The body of Linda Longenbach, a 71-year-old Berry Creek resident, was located on Handkirk Lane on Sept. 10, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

Both she and another previously identified victim — 68-year-old Paul Winer of Berry Creek — were found in the roadway.

One of them was inside a vehicle and the other was approximately 10 feet away from an ATV, authorities said, though they didn’t specify who was where.

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“During the investigation, detectives determined Paul and Linda spoke with a relative in the afternoon on Sept. 8, and said they were aware of the fire and chose not to immediately evacuate at that time,” sheriff’s officials wrote in a statement Friday morning. “We extend our sincerest condolences to the family of Linda Longenbach and the families of all the victims in this devastating fire.”

Some of the 15 victims tried to hide and others were unable to outrun the flames in one of the deadliest and most expansive blazes in California history.

Authorities have previously identified the other fire victims as: Larry Holder, 61; Suzan Zurz, 76; Mark Delagardie, 61; Kin Lee, 64; Jacob Albright, 74; Randy Harrell, 67; John Butler, 79; Sandra Butler, 75; Jorge Hernandez-Juarez, 26; Philip Rubel, 68; Khawar Bhatti, 58; Millicent Catarancuic, 77; and Josiah Williams, 16.

Most of the fire’s victims lived in Berry Creek, while two were from nearby Feather Falls. Both towns are located northeast of Oroville.

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The North Complex ranks among the biggest and most devastating fires the state has ever seen. Only four California fires have killed more people.

At more than 304,000 acres, the fire is the fifth-largest ever recorded in the state. It’s also destroyed the sixth-highest number of structures of any fire, 1,784, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Berry Creek has been many things in its long history — a stagecoach stop, a lumber town, a vacation spot, a gold mining camp.

Firefighters have made significant progress toward controlling the blaze. Containment was at 78% as of Friday morning, allowing an evacuation order to be reduced to a warning in parts of Butte County.

However, those battling the fire will be challenged in the coming days by unseasonably warm temperatures, dry conditions and gusty winds.

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Cal Fire crews have lit preventive burns throughout the week to clear away fuels and keep the fire from moving into Forbestown, a small village nestled in the mountains east of Oroville.

To the north, in Feather Falls, the sky shone a brilliant blue Thursday — a welcome change for those accustomed to the ghastly gray the North Complex had cast over the region — as crews felled trees and cleared brush.

Times staff writer Faith E. Pinho contributed to this report.


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