The remains of six more victims have been found in and around a northern California town overrun by flames last week, raising the death toll to 48 in a wildfire disaster already ranked as California’s most lethal and destructive in state history.
The latest tally of casualties from the Camp Fire was announced by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea as forensic teams with cadaver dogs combed through a ghostly landscape strewn with ash and charred debris in Paradise, California, in the Sierra foothills about 280km north of San Francisco.
The intensified effort to locate victims came on the sixth day of a blaze that incinerated over 7000 homes and other buildings, including most of Paradise, a town once home to 27,000 people.
Honea had previously said that 228 people were listed as missing, and his office also was working to determine the fate of nearly 1300 individuals whose loved ones had requested “well-being checks” on their behalf.
By Tuesday, the killer blaze dubbed the Camp Fire had blackened 50,500 hectares of drought-parched scrub, but crews had carved containment lines around nearly a third of the fire’s expanding perimeter.
More than 50,000 area residents remained under evacuation orders and 15,500 structures were still listed as threatened by the blaze.
However, diminished winds and higher humidity levels allowed crews to make headway against the flames, fire officials said.
The news was likewise more upbeat on the southern end of California’s wildfire front, where a blaze called the Woolsey Fire has killed two people, destroyed over 400 structures and displaced some 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.
While prospects for suppressing the Camp Fire grew more hopeful, authorities stepped up the grim task of sifting through the rubble of homes obliterated in flames that roared through Paradise, sending residents fleeing for their lives in chaos.
The remains of some victims were found in and around the burned-out wreckage of vehicles engulfed in the firestorm as evacuation traffic halted in deadly knots of gridlock hours after the fire erupted.
It remained unclear how many of the 200-plus individuals listed as unaccounted for were actual fire victims or merely evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes.