Death toll from Camp fire in Paradise fire swells to 23; 100 still missing
Silence hangs over Paradise,Calif., after the explosive Camp fire burned through Butte County and claimed 23 lives. Residents have not been allowed back.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
President Donald Trump meets California Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom at Beale Air Force Base on Saturday.(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
US President Donald Trump views damage from wildfires with Paradise Mayor Jody Jones in Paradise, Calif.(SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left and FEMA Administrator Brock Long, right, as he visits a neighborhood impacted by the wildfires in Paradise, Calif.(Evan Vucci / AP)
President Donald Trump tours the Woolsey Fire ravaged neighborhood on Dume Drive in Malibu on Saturday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles TImes)
President Donald Trump, second from left, tours the Woolsey Fire ravaged neighborhood on Dume Drive in Malibu.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles TImes)
From left, Johnny Hardin, 15, Madeline Hardin, 13, Donita Hardin and Erik Hardin, 15 months old, get ready to sleep in their car after getting displaced by the Camp fire, at the Walmart parking lot in Chico, Calif.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Alexandria Wilson, 21, kisses her dog Harley, after they both escaped the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Search and rescue teams inspect the grounds of a house burned by the Camp Fire along Boquest Boulevard in Oroville, Calif.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers hand out supplies to fire evacuees near a Walmart in Chico, Calif.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
People go through donated clothes at a Walmart in Chico, Calif.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
A sign warns looters at the site of burned-down properties in Paradise, Calif.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A search and rescue team combs through the debris for possible human remains Friday at Paradise Gardens, in Paradise, Calif.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Alexandria Wilson, 21, consoles her boyfriend, Jacob Golden, 25, as they recount their harrowing escape from the Camp Fire at a relative’s house in Applegate, Calif.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A vanished neighborhood in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A forensic team investigates the site of a Paradise home where remains were found.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Michael John Ramirez hugs his wife, Charlie Ramirez, after they found her keepsake bracelet while sifting through the remains of their home in Paradise.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Religious figurines sit atop a burned vehicle in Paradise.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Authorities recover the remains of a fire victim from an overturned car alongside Pearson Road in Paradise.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
David Neeley hugs his ex-wife, Jeanne Neely, and their daughter, Faith Neeley, 10, in a parking lot in Oroville, where they are staying amid the Camp fire.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Megan Butler, 26, and her daughter Aurora, 2, are homeless after their house burned down in Concow in the Camp fire.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Yolo County Animal Services Officer Stephanie Amato holds a chicken she helped rescue in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Smoke fills the sky as the Camp fire continues to burn along the North Fork of the Feather River. It has already burned more than 200,000 square miles.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A sign in Paradise offers a warning for would-be looters.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A man rests at a shelter at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville, Calif.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, the Camp fire continues to burn.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, where the Camp fire may have started, helicopters do airdrops while ground crews try to keep the fire from spreading.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighter Brian Carter of Weed, Calif., keeps an eye on the flames along the North Fork of the Feather River.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Many people don’t want to stay in shelters because they can’t take their dogs inside. This dog waits for his human companion in a parking lot in Oroville.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Residents of Paradise, Calif., try to get through a roadblock to check on their home but are turned away. People haven’t been allowed to return to the town.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The Camp fire burns along a ridgetop near Big Bend, Calif., on Saturday.(Noah Berger / AP)
Yuba County sheriff’s officials carry a body away from a burned residence in Paradise.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
A crew from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection walks through the rubble of a home while putting out hot spots in Paradise, Calif.(Mason Trinca / For The Times)
Flames and embers, pushed by strong dry winds, set the town of Paradise, Calif., ablaze. Thousands of buildings were destroyed.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Brad Weldon, 63, waits for help along Skyway in Paradise, Calif. Weldon was among the residents who stayed and battled the wildfire.(Mason Trinca / For The Times)
Fire crews put out hot spots in Paradise, Calif.(Mason Trinca / For The Times)
Firefighters walk through the rubble of a home in Paradise, Calif.(Mason Trinca / For The Times)
The death toll from the most destructive fire in California history surged to 23 people on Saturday night, with more than 100 still missing in Butte County, officials said.
The 14 more bodies were discovered Saturday, and fire crews are still searching through the burn area for more victims.
More than 6,700 homes and commercial buildings have been lost in Butte County, making it the most destructive fire to property in state history. Huge swaths of the town of Paradise were lost.
On Saturday, officials said the fire was still threatening Stirling City and Paradise Pines and headed toward Oroville. Defenses placed outside the city of Chico appear to be holding.
Firefighters are concerned that strong northeasterly winds will return Saturday night, causing the fire to spread.
“Extreme fire behavior with dangerous rates of spread are expected,” Cal Fire said in a statement.
As of Saturday morning, the fire had burned 100,000 acres and was 20% contained. About 15,000 structures were still threatened.
Homes and businesses had been reduced to piles of ash and twisted metal. Tall pine trees and utility poles smoldered. According to the California Teachers Assn., at least five of the nine schools in Paradise were destroyed, including Paradise Elementary.
Cars abandoned by fleeing motorists who found themselves unable to escape lay crumpled in the roadways, their tires melted.
The bodies of five people were discovered on Edgewood Lane in vehicles overtaken by the fire. Others were found outside their cars and homes. Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea said they could not immediately be identified because they were burned so badly.
“There were people who weren’t able to get out,” Honea said from a makeshift command post at Butte College, which had been closed Thursday. As he talked, flakes of white ash fell on his uniform as strong winds continued to sweep across the nearby burning ridges.
Authorities are recovering bodies “with as much dignity as we can afford them,” he said.
Sue Brown said she and her husband, Sidney, had a half-hour’s warning before they were forced to leave their home and most of their possessions behind. Before they knew the fire was coming, Sidney had taken off his wedding ring because his fingers were swollen.
“And it’s gone,” said Sue Brown, 66.
The couple is now volunteering at the Elks Lodge in Chico, one of many evacuation centers in the area, which helps keep their minds busy.
Three years ago, the Browns moved into a three-bedroom one-story home in Paradise where they planned to spend their retirement.
Sue Brown said she didn’t expect the gravity of what’s happened to sink in until they were able to return to their property. She doesn’t expect to rebuild there.
“We not only lost our home,” she said Saturday. “We lost a whole community. It’s gone. Paradise is gone.”
At Neighborhood Church in Chico, a large evacuation center, dozens lined up outside at tents set up by insurance companies, while inside the Red Cross was registering people. Just inside, a white dry-erase board had rows of names of the missing. The board was filled, so sheets of yellow notebook paper with more names were taped to the sides.
For the past two nights, Gerald Zastrow, 82, his wife, Nancy, 70, and her sister Terri Myers, 80, slept in small cots in the shelter. They had abandoned their home on the south side of Paradise on Thursday and were able to collect a handful of possessions beforehand.
“If I got off the hill the way God made me, I was lucky,” Nancy Zastrow said. “If I got anything more than that, which I did, I was really lucky.”
The three have an offer to stay with relatives near San Francisco, but want to wait and see if their home is still standing first. Nancy Zastrow found evidence online that the health center down the road from their home had not burned, but their neighbor’s house had.
“The majority of the people need to know if they have a home or not,” she said. “It’s the not knowing that’s the killer. This limbo is really difficult.”
Joe McNally and his wife, Anne Benoit, were struggling to come to terms with losses of everything they owned on 20 acres of Paradise: two houses, a barn, a garage, a stable and a Christmas tree farm.
“We lost 10,000 Christmas trees that were 2 to 10 years old,” Benoit said. “We tried to defend them with garden hoses, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Here’s the thing: It takes about 10 years to grow a Christmas tree,” she added. “But I’m 70, and Joe is 71. So, with the crop gone, we won’t grow another.”
Among the displaced was Anthony Campa, a 40-year resident of what he described as “a mountain town like no other.”
“The family lines of some people I grew up with stretch back to the Gold Rush era in the 1860s,” he said. “Later, in 1979, we incorporated as a city of distinction, but not for the usual reasons.”
“We are the only municipality in the United States without a sewer system,” the former Paradise firefighter said. “Instead, we rely on septic systems. That’s because the hilly terrain, isolation and remoteness of Paradise made a sewer system unaffordable.”
As caravans of fire engines and utility trucks rushed past the window of a restaurant in nearby Chico where he was trying to come to terms with the catastrophe, he said, “The big question now among evacuees is this: So, where do we go from here?
“Paradise was an exceptional place to live for generations,” he said wistfully. “It may be again, but not for generations to come.”
It could be weeks before officials determine the cause of the Camp fire, named because it began near Camp Creek Road. On Friday, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. notified state regulators that one of its high-voltage power lines located near where the fire began had malfunctioned shortly before the first flames were reported Thursday morning.
The fire forced 50,000 people in Paradise and surrounding towns to evacuate. Many of them spilled onto a four-lane road called Skyway — the main evacuation route out of Paradise — that quickly became jammed. Residents described sitting in traffic as flames on both sides of the road reached their cars.
7:30 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from Paradise residents.
6:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials about death toll.
2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from Paradise residents.
1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Paradise resident Sue Brown.
This article was originally posted at noon.
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