CHICO (CBS SF/AP) — The death toll of the devastating Camp Fire grew to 77 Sunday as teams continued to search for the missing. President Donald Trump paid the fire zone a visit the previous day to see the destruction firsthand and lend support to survivors.
As he has for several days, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea met with reporters to update the grim numbers. He said four sets of remains were found Saturday in burned-out homes in Paradise. The other remains were found outside a home in Concow. One more body was found on Sunday, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
Of the dead, Honea said 63 victims have been tentatively identified. DNA was also being collected from family members of the missing at the support center in Chico.
Added to the confirmed deaths was the large number of missing — 993. The number of missing decreased by 283 on Sunday.
“That is raw data we’re collecting from phone calls, emails and the 911 system,” Honea told CNN of the missing list. “It’s not perfect data, but our thought process is that it’s better to get that information out to help start getting people accounted for. So rather than wait for perfection, we’re trying to get some progress going.”
Dozens of search teams assisted by cadaver dogs carefully shifted through the ruins of homes in Paradise, Magalia and Concow for any sign of human remains.
The search has become even more urgent as rain showers are predicted for the fire-ravaged area by Wednesday.
“It’s a disheartening situation,” Honea said. “As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible.”
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The destruction of more than 10,000 homes and the dire state of the survivors was not lost on President Trump.
“We’re going to have to work quickly. … Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one,” said the president, standing amid the crumpled foundations of homes and twisted steel of melted cars in a former RV park.
“I think everybody’s seen the light and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent,” Trump said in Paradise, the town largely destroyed by a wildfire ignited Nov. 8 that he called “this monster.”
Wearing a camouflage “USA” hat, Trump gazed solemnly at the devastation in Paradise.
Several burned-out buses and cars were nearby. Trees were burned, their branches bare and twisted. Homes were totally gone; some foundations remained, as did a chimney and, in front of one house, a Mickey Mouse lawn ornament. The fire was reported to have moved through the area at 80 mph.
“It’s going to work out well, but right now we want to take care of the people that are so badly hurt,” Trump said visiting what remained of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park. He noted “there are areas you can’t even get to them yet” and the sheer number of people unaccounted for.
More than 5,500 fire personnel battled the blaze Saturday that now covers 228 square miles and was about 55 percent contained.
Away from the limelight of the President’s visit, the thousands of residents driven from their homes struggled with another day in shelters and makeshift camps in parking lots. Four of the shelters currently have norovirus outbreaks, and are getting worse every day.
“I’d rather breathe the smoke (than move into a shelter),” said evacuee Carol Whiteburn, who is among the dozens of fire survivors who are living in a makeshift camp in the WalMart lot in Chico.
Meanwhile, a line stretching for several blocks formed outside a FEMA relief office inside a closed Sears store in Chico. It will be another week or more before federal aid and housing will be made available to the evacuees.
“Our heart goes out to them,” said FEMA External Affairs Officer Brad Pierce. “We understand the situation. We are working around the clock to try and help them.”
Among those seeking FEMA’s help was Beverly Carl, who lost her home in Paradise.
“The ball is rolling now, the services are there, just a matter of getting your number,” she said as she waited in line.
But with 52,000 displaced by the fire, the challenge is great.
“We started yesterday, 9 to 7, it’s been non-stop,” said FEMA’s Jovanna Garcia. “I got here this morning there was a line around the building.”