As the death toll rises to 56, hope fades for those missing in Paradise fire
John Digby was on the phone with his son when there was a knock at his door in Paradise. The 78-year-old was in bed sick, unaware of the raging inferno outside, so he didn’t get up to answer it.
Hours later, Roman Digby called again to see if his father’s health had improved. Static met him on the other end. He tried the police, to no avail.
The younger Digby then searched “Paradise” on Google and learned that a wildfire had taken the town. He realized the knock on his father’s door must have been a neighbor urging him to evacuate.
His worst fear was confirmed Wednesday when he got a call from the coroner: His father — like 55 others — had perished in the blaze, which started a week ago. The Camp fire death toll increased when search crews recovered eight more bodies in Paradise.
“He was loved and he’ll be missed,” Digby said of his father. “He was a very kindhearted man.”
Others who fear their loved ones dead, authorities said, may never know for sure. About 130 people remain unaccounted for. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said family members interested in offering a DNA sample could do so — it could help investigators identify the remains.
More than 460 people, along with 22 cadaver dogs, are involved in recovery efforts.
Since they began collecting names of those missing, investigators have found more than 200 people safe.
“I think that’s a pretty positive number,” Honea said.
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)
As of Wednesday evening, the deadliest wildfire in state history has destroyed more than 10,300 structures and scorched 138,000 acres in Butte County. It was 35% contained, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials.
As crews strengthened containment lines around the fire’s footprint, public health officials were dealing with another problem at an evacuation shelter in Chico, a city near Paradise.
A norovirus outbreak was confirmed at Neighborhood Church, where about 200 evacuees are staying, said Lisa Almaguer, a spokeswoman for the Butte County Department of Public Health. She did not know how many people were ill but said that the sick have been separated from the healthy.
Such outbreaks are “not uncommon” in relatively small spaces where lots of people are living, she said. Shelter staff members are working to clean handles, counter tops and anywhere else the virus might be.
Elsewhere, some residents built their own makeshift resource center for those displaced. In the Walmart parking lot in Chico, people brought a variety of food items, including enchiladas and pastries. A man made patties out of a large tray of ground beef. Another served homemade minestrone.
There was an area for pets, with dog beds and pet food piled high.
Missere has heart problems and had difficulty living out of the truck. So earlier this week, they headed to Walmart for a tent and met a pastor who set them up with donated supplies.
On Wednesday afternoon, the couple sat outside their red tent, clutching mugs of coffee while Coco slept on a new bed beside them. By the afternoon the camp had swelled with more than 100 people. Many had pets with them.
“You can’t go hungry here,” Missere said.
The couple’s home in Magalia is still standing, but they haven’t been allowed back.
“I feel relieved that we have a home,” Crowder said. Many of their friends weren’t so lucky.
Crowder has been overwhelmed by the support at the camp. The couple spent most of what little money they had on hand before the fire on fast food when they were sleeping in their vehicle. On Wednesday, a man walked up and gave Crowder $60 in cash, bringing him to tears.
Soon after, two middle-school-aged girls walked up to the couple, one with a tray of patties and the other with the fixings including mustard and pickles.
“See? They just come to you,” Missere said. “It’s like being at a restaurant.”
Santa Cruz reported from Chico, Tchekmedyian and Shalby from Los Angeles.
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