PARADISE (CBS SF) — The Butte County Sheriff announced Monday night that the death toll from the Camp Fire has risen to 42 after crews confirmed an additional 13 lives lost during their search for the missing.
The announcement came during regional officials’ 6 p.m. update on the wildfire near about 90 miles north of Sacramento. The new information makes the Camp Fire the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history.
“Of those 13, ten human remains were located in Paradise, seven in homes and three outside. Three from the Concow area, two were outside home, one was inside a home,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “As that process has been going on, other members of our team have been working diligently to try to identify those remains and notify the next of kin so that we can return their remains. As of tonight, we have positively identified four sets of human remains and we’ve been able to locate and notify the next of kin for three of those four deceased individuals.”
The three victims identified were:
Ernest Foss, age 65, from Paradise
Jesus Fernandez, age 48, from Concow
Carl Wiley, age 77, from Magalia
Officials also said that the fire had grown to 117,000 acres with containment at 30 percent. The total number of single-family residences that were destroyed in the fire rose to 6,453 structures with 36 homes damaged.
Additionally, fire officials determined that 74 multiple residence buildings were destroyed with 11 of those types of structures damaged.
The total number of structures destroyed by the Camp Fire rose to 7,177.
A total of 52,000 residents have been evacuated due to the fire. Currently there are over 13,000 people being housed in shelters.
Earlier Monday, search teams returned to the historic devastation left by the wildfire that ripped through the communities of Paradise, Concow, Magalia and other smaller clusters of homes, incinerating everything in its fiery path.
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Among those hoping and praying for word that their loved ones had been found safe was Ted Woods.
“Two of my friends are missing,” Woods said with his voice choking with emotion. “One out of Magalia and one out of Paradise. And I’m hoping it ain’t one of the body counts.”
Pam Mosher is searching for her daughter and son-in-law.
“It gets worse every day,” Mosher said as she held of photos of his missing relatives. “You try to tell yourself it’s going to be okay, you really don’t feel that way.”
Jake Hancock, who is a District Attorney Investigator in Butte County, is a member of a search team shifting through the rubble of burned down homes in Paradise, looking for human remains.
“We’re just going door to door, house to house,” he told KPIX 5. “Looking for families loved ones that are missing.”
The human toll has equaled the highest number of deaths in a single wildfire in California history matching the grim toll of the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles.
Ten search teams were working in Paradise — a town of 27,000 — and in surrounding communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Authorities have called in a DNA lab and teams of anthropologists to help identify victims and asked families of those missing for DNA samples.
While President Donald Trump has blamed state forestry policies for the tragedy, outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters Sunday that global climate change was the culprit.
“We don’t know the cause of this fire, and the town of Paradise certainly had a lot of preparation, but we’re dealing with existential conditions that, once they take off, certain amount of dryness in the vegetation, in the soil, in the air, and the winds get up 50-60 miles an hour — this is what happens,” Brown said.
“But, managing all the forest in every way we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years.”
Amid the ruins of Paradise on Sunday, there was a small bit of joy to celebrate. A member of Hancock’s search team found a scared and slightly singed family cat alive.
“I don’t usually get to recovery anything that’s alive,” said Vicky Vincent with the Shasta County Coroner’s Office. “It’s nice to be able to save something.”
And there were several joyful reunions on Sunday including John Warner, who had pleaded for any word of his grandparents during a TV interview.
“(I) Just hope that somebody is watching that’s seen them,” he asked. Moments later, his phone range, his grandfather had made it out of the deadly flames and was safe in a shelter.
A short time later he stood with his grandfather outside a Chico church that was serving as an evacuation center.
“We found you,” Warner said hugging his grandfather. “The lady that worked here (called) and said — ‘I know where they are art, they are over at the church.”
“Overwhelming joy,” Warner proclaimed. “So ecstatic.”
The shelters — like the one in Chico — have taken in thousands of evacuees who have lost their homes.
Shelter volunteer Tim Wall said the system is being strained to its limits. He issued a plea for help Sunday.
“We’re so thankful for how the community has come together,” Wall said. “It’s been a major blessing. But this isn’t a one-day thing. This is long-term and we have to think that way. So food is going to continue to run out, so will supplies. We keep needing that. We definitely need medical supplies and medical professionals. A lot of our elderly are on oxygen and that’s running out quickly.”
In the Bay Area, the massive plume of smoke and ash driven western by the upper level winds continued to drape a layer of unhealthy air over the region early Monday.
The air quality indexes for several cities were among the worst in the world. San Francisco and Oakland had an AQI level of 166, Concord was at 161, San Pablo 168 and Livermore 174.
Local officials have issued an air quality advisory for the region, warning residents to limit their outdoor exposure.
Meanwhile, NFL officials were monitoring the pollution levels in Santa Cara. If the AQI reaches 200, Monday night’s San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants game could be cancelled.