CHICO, Calif. (CBS SF/AP) — Butte County officials released the latest numbers in the recovery effort from the Camp Fire Monday evening, announcing that the remains of two more people were found, raising the death toll in the deadly fire to 79.
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office released a statement updating the numbers Monday night, stating that only two bodies were uncovered since the last update. Authorities said of the two sets of human remains, one was found in a structure in Paradise and the other was located outside in Magalia.
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Crews did make progress with the large list of missing persons from the fire, with officials saying that the number of missing and unaccounted for individuals had dropped considerably and currently stands at 699.
Cal Fire officials said the Camp Fire is now 70 percent contained and has consumed 151,272 acres. A total of 15,850 structures have been destroyed by the fire including 11,713 residences.
Meanwhile, the frantic search to find the remains of those who perished in the fire grew more urgent ahead of an approaching storm system that could wash away DNA residue with the anticipated rain.
It’s been 12 days since Christina Taft started the frantic search for her mother Victoria, who refused to evacuate their Paradise home as flames neared, and six days since she gave authorities a cheek swab to identify remains that are likely her mother’s.
She still hasn’t received confirmation that her mother is dead, and says she’s been frustrated by what she feels is a lack of communication from Butte County officials.
“They said they found remains, they didn’t say her remains. They won’t confirm it to me the whole time,” Taft said Monday.
While the number of missing has been reduced by almost 500 names since the weekend, the process is inexact and incomplete, progress has been slow, and the many days of uncertainty are adding to the stress.
More than a dozen people are marked as “unknowns,” without first or last names. In some cases, names are listed twice or more times under different spellings. Others are confirmed dead, and their names simply haven’t been taken off yet.
Survivors and relatives of those caught in the fire in Northern California are using social media to get the word out: in some cases, to post that their loved ones were safe; in others, to plead for help.
“Aunt Dorothy is still missing. There has been confusion going on at the Sheriffs office regarding her whereabouts because she was taken off the list,” a man wrote on Facebook on Monday.
“I have an uncle and two cousins that I have not been able to make contact with,” one woman wrote on Facebook, with their names. “Any info would be appreciated.”
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said he released the rough and incomplete list in hopes that people would contact authorities to say they are OK. He has called it “raw data” compiled from phone calls, emails and other reports.
“We put the list out. It will fluctuate. It will go up. It will go down because this is in a state of flux,” Honea said Monday. “My view on this has been that I would prefer to get the information out and start working to find who is unaccounted for and who is not. I would put progress over perfection.”
Officials have also culled reports from the earliest hours of the disaster, when fire knocked out mobile phone communications and thousands fled, some to safe shelter that was hundreds of miles away.
Honea said his office was working with the Red Cross to account for people entering and leaving shelters. Evacuees are also helping authorities narrow the list, sometimes by chance.
Whittling down the massive list of the missing is largely the task of tracking survivors who found shelter anywhere they could.
Matt Nelson with the Lake County Disaster Alliance Response Team is managing that effort at Woodson Bridge RV Park in Tehama County.
“It’s a beautiful place on top of the Sacramento River,” said Nelson. “We have 173 fire survivors right now.”
He has his own list of survivors.
“The other list goes to unified command, so they can have a list of the people here,” said Nelson.
Robert James Miles, who lost his Paradise trailer in the blaze, was staying at a shelter in Chico where people posted names of those they hadn’t heard from. Miles said he alerted a Red Cross worker Saturday that he recognized eight names on the board as friends he knew were OK.
“Two of them were in the shelter,” he said with a chuckle.
Owen and Phyllis Suihkonen understand the chaos. Their family is scattered after they lost their home to the wildfire, as did their two adult children.
Phyllis Suihkonen, 69, says she spotted the names of two friends on the list of unaccounted people, and doesn’t know if they are safe. But her daughter has seen names of friends who are OK and called sheriff’s officials to let them know.
“I’m concerned,” Phyllis said. “But like I said, there’s been other friends’ names on the list that have been accounted for and taken off.”
Meanwhile, those searching for bodies were in a race against the weather, as rain was forecast for Wednesday. The precipitation could help knock out the flames, but it could also hinder the search by washing away fragmentary remains and turning ash into a thick paste.
The fire, which burned at least 234 square miles (606 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 12,000 homes, reported was two-thirds contained on Monday.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco’s cable cars, the Oakland Zoo and other San Francisco Bay Area area attractions were closed Monday because of smoke from the blaze some 180 miles (290 kilometers) away. Several San Francisco museums over the weekend offered free admission to give people something to do indoors.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said it is “way too early” to estimate the damage done by the wildfire. But for perspective, he said the fires that gutted 6,800 homes last year resulted in $12.6 billion in insured losses.
“It’s going to be a long and painful process,” he said.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.