Camp fire’s death toll mounts in Paradise as the search for victims continues
Ariel view of destruction from the Camp fire in Paradise off of Clark Road. The Camp Fire has burned more than 7,000 structures in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Crews continue their search for victims of the Camp fire in Paradise, Calif., where the majority of homes were destroyed by the fast-moving wildfire.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A body is recovered from Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, as the search continues for victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Little remains of the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, Calif., where a team recovered one victim Monday.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The search for victims continues in Paradise, Calif., after the deadly Camp fire raced through the community.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A crew recovers the remains of a dog on Lawndale Lane in Paradise, Calif.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A horse at the Butte County Fairgrounds has its owner’s phone number on its neck(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, helicopters do airdrops while ground crews try to keep the Camp fire from spreading.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Two young deer stand in the rubble of a home in Paradise, Calif.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Burned out business in the downtown area of Paradise, Calif., after the Camp fire burned through the area.(Peter Dasilva / EPA / Shutterstock)
Silvia Johnson, age 85, said her house in Paradise, Calif., was burning when she left it, and knows it’s gone. Johnson has been living in Paradise for 48 years and says of the fire, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The sun rises over the burned hills near Paradise, Calif., as the Camp fire continues to burn.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment complex as a wildfire burns through Paradise, Calif., on Friday.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Scorched vehicles at a used-car dealership in Paradise, Calif., on Friday.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Officer Randy Law tends to a rescued horse as a wildfire burns in Paradise, Calif.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A firefighter battles flames in the Butte County town of Magalia on Friday.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Abandoned vehicles on the side of a road in Paradise, Calif.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A home burns in Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Hospital workers and first responders evacuate patients from Feather River Hospital as the Camp fire moves through Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Rescue teams scramble to evacuate patients as Feather River Hospital burns in Paradise, Calif.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A statue is seen on a smouldering property as the Camp fire tears through Paradise.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A home is overshadowed by towering smoke plumes as the Camp fire races through town in Paradise(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
A home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise. At least five people have died in a massive wildfire raging in northern Calif.(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
A Jack In The Box fast food restaurant burns as the Camp fire tears through Paradise.(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
Flames consume a Kentucky Fried Chicken as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A fire fighter puts water on a fire as he performs structure protection, as the Camp Fire burns out of control through Paradise.(PETER DASILVA / EPA / Shutterstock)
Hillery Johnson prepares to leave here horse, Augie in a shopping center parking lot after law enforcement officers said it was time to leave as the Camp fire approached and there is no trailer to transport Augie out of the area.(PETER DASILVA / EPA / Shutterstock)
Hospital workers embrace as they evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A home burns as the Camp fire rages through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A Paradise business is in ruins as the Camp fire ravaged the area.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Hospital workers and first-responders evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Flames engulf a home in Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
The evacuation of patients continues at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The Camp fire rages through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Flames from the Camp fire destroy a home in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The evacuation at Feather River Hospital.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A building burns in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The death toll from the Camp fire raging in Butte County rose to 29 on Sunday as authorities continued their search for victims amid the ruins of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise.
Five additional victims were found in their homes, said Butte County Sheriff-Coroner Kory Honea. Another was found in a vehicle.
The number could continue to grow. On Sunday, authorities said, there were 228 people whose whereabouts were unknown.
The search has been hampered by the active fire still burning in the area. Through much of the weekend, the ground remained too hot for cadaver dogs to tread.
Authorities have struggled to keep up with the sheer number of calls about missing people, Honea said Sunday. The Sheriff’s Department has fielded some 500 calls and found more than 100 people, many of whom were in shelters but had not yet been in touch with loved ones, he said. Over the coming days, he said, deputies will be working to sort through the confusion.
“What I will say is we are very early in our efforts,” Honea said. “There is still a great deal of work to do.”
An eerie aftermath settles over areas scorched by the Camp fire in Butte County.
The missing include at least three neighbors of Shane Bender, who stood Sunday outside his single-story, wood-sided home in Paradise. Splotches of charred pine needles covered his yard like leopard spots, but his property was otherwise unscathed. His was one of the few holdouts from a blaze that authorities say has claimed 6,435 homes and 260 commercial structures — the biggest property loss in any fire in recent California history.
“I’m having a hard time grasping what happened here,” said Bender, 31. “I moved a year ago. I was just getting to know my neighbors. All good people.”
Bender said deputies had made visits to the residences of several neighbors listed as missing.
“They park, check the address and then start walking slowly, eyeballing the broken glass and Sheetrock for telltale signs,” he said.
As the fire bore down Thursday, Bender, a wildlands firefighter with the local Feather River Hotshots crew, shepherded terrified neighbors to safety as the air filled with acrid smoke and glowing embers rained down on their rooftops.
Within minutes, dozens of men, women and children — some of them screaming and crying — were streaming down a two-lane street toward the safety of a hardware store parking lot that he assured them was there beyond the smoke.
By Sunday evening, the Camp fire — named because it began near Camp Creek Road in Butte County — had charred 111,000 acres and was 25% contained, fire authorities said.
Alex Hoon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said at an evening news conference that the powerful winds that have plagued the fire fight are expected to die down after Monday. A red flag warning for wind gusts up to 40 mph was set to remain in effect until 7 a.m. Monday, he said.
Jonathan Pangburn, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said it had been 210 days since the area had received at least a half-inch of rain and that there was “critically dry fuel available for burning.”
“The wind conditions coupled with that fuel means they are primed and ready for spot fires to catch,” he said.
On Sunday, what was left of Paradise was all but deserted. Surreal new post-fire routines replaced the rhythms of life.
Fire engines rumbled along narrow mountain lanes en route to smoldering hotspots. Utility crews used mobile cherry pickers to cut down sagging power lines. Authorities walked carefully amid the husks of burned homes as they searched for remains.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. On Friday, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. notified state regulators that a high-voltage power line near where the fire began had malfunctioned shortly before the first flames were first reported.
Scott Branch, who works for PG&E, spent Sunday beginning the long and arduous task of cutting down and removing hundreds of miles of power cables, which drooped from poles that were either aflame or leaning perilously.
About 1 p.m., his work on a severely damaged stretch of Edgewood Lane was interrupted by the emergency rescue of 14 horses from a nearby ranch.
Crystal Comer’s mother owned the horses, and she refused to leave until the four remaining horses on the property were moved to safety.
“The saddest thing about this is that one of the four horses is an older mare and can hardly walk,” said Comer, 38, adding that law enforcement officers helped her access the ranch. “That mare may have to be put down.”
Kit Bailey, assistant chief at the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, summarized growing concerns about Paradise’s ability to rebound.
“In a city of 27,000 retirees and working-class folks that lost 90 to 95% of its structures, there is no housing to support a population to support its own economy,” he said. There are also questions about how many residents were insured — and at what level — in a high fire hazard area, he said.
“There will be a lot of people walking” away, he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of them.”
The situation may differ from the post-fire recovery in the Santa Rosa area a year ago, where prices for burned lots and available rentals quickly skyrocketed. That was due to demand and the region’s comparatively affluent population.
Despite the massive destruction, Paradise Police Department Sgt. John Alvies held out hope.
“We’re resilient people, and I have faith that Paradise will come back — it damn well better.”
Sahagun reported from Paradise, Serna from Chico and Branson-Potts from Los Angeles.
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