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California fire: Death toll rises in Camp fire as survivors look for their way forward

As the death toll from the Camp fire rose to 71 on Friday and the number of missing jumped to more than 1,000, an army of searchers scoured the rubble in the ongoing effort to locate more victims.

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Eight more bodies were found Friday, and the number of people unaccounted for jumped from 631 to 1,011 as authorities continued to comb through 911 calls, emails and other reports of missing people.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said, however, that the list of the missing is dynamic and may include people who were counted twice, whose names were misspelled or who may not know they were reported missing.

The Camp fire, already the state’s worst fire on record, has burned 146,000 acres and destroyed 12,263 structures. Officials said it could take weeks to complete the search for victims and identify them. Thousands of residents are without homes and living in shelters and tent cities.

The relentless rise in the number of dead and missing comes as President Trump plans to visit both Northern and Southern California on Saturday to tour the burn areas.

Although the president and Gov. Jerry Brown have clashed on numerous policies — and Trump was roundly criticized last week for erroneously blaming the fires on poor forest management and threatening to cut off funding to California — the two have pledged to work together after the devastating wildfires.

“Now is the time to pull together for the people of California,” Brown said on Twitter.

As the fire’s massive toll continued to come into focus Friday, many Paradise residents struggled to complete day-to-day tasks. The question of how to rebuild their lives in Paradise — if they decided to do so at all — was never far from their thoughts.

A line of evacuees snaked around a vacant Sears department store that had been transformed into a disaster recovery center. Hundreds of people filtered in and out throughout the day.

Cities are mostly safe from wildfires, but not where they meet and mingle with the countryside, or the so-called wildland-urban interface.

Pat Nohrnberg, 73, waited with her husband, Stew, looking for information about temporary housing. The two have lived in Paradise for 15 years and have been staying with a friend since they were forced from their home by the Camp fire. But they have to be out Sunday.

The Nohrnbergs’ mobile home is gone, and Stew lost all of his important documents, including his birth certificate.

They want to put another mobile home on the plot they were renting but are unsure whether their landlord will keep the land. They’re not even sure when they’ll be able to go back to sift through the ashes to look for any belongings that may have survived.

“Each day it’s something a little bit different,” Pat Nohrnberg said. “It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.”

The line outside the post office in nearby downtown Chico was already a few dozen deep when Paradise resident Kathleen Reed joined the crowd about 9 a.m. Friday.

Reed, 56, was there to collect a package for her mother and a week’s worth of mail that had accumulated since the Camp fire destroyed her home Nov. 8.

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While some are thinking of rebuilding, Reed is not. She lived in Paradise in the early 1980s then moved away, but she returned to the tightknit community in 2009.

“I love Paradise,” she said, but that may not be enough to incentive to stay.

“I don’t ever want to put my kids in the position again where they have to run away from a wildfire,” Reed said. “It’s just not safe to build in the forest anymore. It’s the new normal.”

Tim Bolin, the executive pastor of Paradise Alliance Church, was in line at the post office to take care of his church’s payroll. Sixteen of his 21 employees lost their homes and are “scattered all over, from 100 miles north to 100 miles south,” he said. Another employee’s home was looted.

“There’s checks that have come in. There’s some bills that have to get paid. I hope people are patient,” he said.

The church and Bolin’s home survived, but all of his children’s homes were destroyed. They’re going to set up on his property in trailers and hook up to his septic system while they figure out what’s next, he said.

“Paradise is gone. When I drove through it, it’s gone. But the sense is we’re going to rebuild.”

Others weren’t so sure.

Linda Howard, 70, had been waiting at the disaster recovery center for five hours. She saw people give up and leave. But she would not.

Howard and her daughter, who has special needs, are staying in the area with her brother, but only until they move into a small travel trailer with their parrot.

After about 20 calls, she found an RV space at a casino, and that’s where they will live until it’s safe to go back to Paradise.

“It’s another chapter,” Howard said.

She and her daughter had just moved into a house, but it was burned to the ground. Still, Howard has a place to live when she returns to Paradise: She buys and sells properties, and a second home she was selling in the town didn’t burn. She and her daughter will live there once they are allowed back.

“No one knows how long that’s going to be,” she said.

But she doesn’t plan to stay in Paradise. The two are thinking about finding a ranch.

“It’s time for a change at 70 years old,” she said.

Santa Cruz, Serna and Smith reported from Paradise and Chico, and Panzar from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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