Magalia, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — Cool weather helped fire crews gain ground Thursday against the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century, as the search went on for more bodies in the ashes of Paradise and surrounding communities. At least 56 people were killed, with 130 others missing a week after the flames swept through.
The nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometer) blaze was 40 percent contained, the state fire agency said, and firefighters succeeded in slowing the flames' advance toward populated areas.
More than 450 searchers were assigned to look for remains in Paradise, which was all but destroyed, and outlying areas such as Magalia, a forested Northern California town of about 11,000. Many of the missing were elderly and from Magalia.
"If this town does recover, it's going to take many, many years," said Johnny Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who lives up the road from many burned homes.
Police drove around town, searching for those still in their homes and checking if they needed food and water.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Wednesday night that 130 people were on the missing list.
At the other end of the state, crews continued to battle wildfires in Southern California, including a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and nearby communities. At least three deaths were reported.
Officials in Northern California put the number of homes lost there at nearly 8,800, and the sheriff said the task of recovering remains had become so vast that his office brought in 287 more searchers Wednesday, including National Guard troops. The searchers used 22 cadaver dogs.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to Paradise on Wednesday, saying it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.
"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said. "There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening." He cited higher temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.
The governor said officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly .
It will take years to rebuild, if people decide that's what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point," he said.
While most of Paradise was wiped out, in Magalia a sharp dividing line marked those who survived and those who did not.
"Magalia has so many trees. I honestly can't believe it just didn't get leveled," said Sheri Palade, an area real estate agent.
Tom Driver, the office manager and elder at Magalia Community Church, said he heard the church made it through the blaze, though he did not know whether his home did.
"I've been able to account for all of the congregation," said Driver, who is staying with family in Oakland. "They're all over the place, but they got out in pretty good time."
Kim Bonini, one of those who got out safely Nov. 8, left after hearing someone on a bullhorn two blocks over urging people to leave. The power in her home had gone out that morning, leaving her with only her car radio.
"My cell didn't work, my house phone didn't work, nothing. Nothing except for me crawling into my car," Bonini said from her daughter's home in Chico. "If I wouldn't have heard them two blocks down, I wouldn't have known I had to evacuate."
Magalia, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — As the scope of a deadly Northern California wildfire set in, the sheriff said more than 450 people had now been assigned to comb through the charred remains in search for more bodies. The blaze has killed at least 56 people and authorities say 130 are unaccounted for.
Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.
The one major roadway that runs through the mostly residential town is dotted with gas stations, a pizza shop, a hair salon and Chinese restaurant and convenience stores. There is no Main Street or town center. Resident Johnny Pohmagevich says a Rite Aid on the main road is as much of a center as the town has.
"When I say downtown I mean Paradise," said Pohmagevich, who opted to stay in Magalia even as fire closed in.
Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who works at Timber Ridge Real Estate and lives just up the road from many burned homes, said he stayed to protect his employer's property from looters and to prepare some cabins and mobile homes so business tenants can live if they come back.
"If this town does recover, it's going to take many, many years," he said.
A week after the deadly Camp Fire struck, police teams drive around Magalia searching for those still in their homes, checking if they need any food and water. Crews from Pacific Gas & Electric are also in the area. With the death toll at 56, it is the deadliest wildfire in a century . There were also three fatalities from separate blazes in Southern California.
As officials raised the loss of homes to nearly 8,800 Wednesday, Sheriff Kory Honea said the task of recovering remains had become so vast that his office brought in another 287 searchers Wednesday, including National Guard troops, bringing the total number of searchers to 461 plus 22 cadaver dogs. He said a rapid-DNA assessment system was expected to be in place soon to speed up identifications of the dead, though officials have tentatively identified 47 of the 56.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday on a visit to the nearby leveled town of Paradise, telling reporters it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.
"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said. "There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening." He cited warmer temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.
Brown, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump's policies, said he spoke with Trump, who pledged federal assistance.
"This is so devastating that I don't really have the words to describe it," Brown said, saying officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly .
It will take years to rebuild, if people decide that's what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point," Long said.
While most of the town of Paradise was wiped out, in Magalia, a sharp dividing line marks those that survived and those that did not.
"Magalia has so many trees. I honestly can't believe it just didn't get leveled," said Sheri Palade, an area real estate agent.
For some, the areas left untouched offered a ray of hope.
Tom Driver, the office manager and elder at Magalia Community Church, said he had heard the church survived the blaze, though he did not know the status of his own home.
"I've been able to account for all of the congregation," said Driver, who is staying with family in Oakland. "They're all over the place but they got out in pretty good time."
Driver said many residents of Magalia work at the university in Chico or out of their homes. When the blaze spread into Paradise, residents there drove down and faced horrendous traffic. Driver said he and some others in Magalia were able to escape north on a winding narrow road that put them ahead of the fire, not behind it.
Kim Bonini heard someone on a bullhorn two blocks over on Thursday urging people to leave. The power in her home had gone out that morning, leaving her only with her car radio to tell her if she needed to leave.
"My cell didn't work, my house phone didn't work, nothing. Nothing except for me crawling into my car," Bonini said from her daughter's home in Chico on Wednesday. "If I wouldn't have heard them two blocks down I wouldn't have known I had to evacuate."
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, but it broke out around the time and place that a utility reported equipment trouble.
Malibu, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — A body was found in a burned home Wednesday, and authorities were investigating to determine if it's the third victim of a huge wildfire in Southern California that destroyed hundreds of homes.
Two deaths were previously linked to the weeklong blaze in Ventura and Los Angeles counties that so far has scorched 152 square miles (394 square kilometers), engulfing homes, scenic canyon getaways and celebrity estates. The two unidentified adults were found dead last week in a car overtaken by flames.
The body was found in the ruins of a home in Agoura Hills that had been checked earlier by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who hadn't spotted anything in the rubble, authorities said.
Authorities were asked to check by concerned neighbors who had evacuated and returned to find the home burned to the ground and no sign of the owner — a man in his 70s who had chosen to stay — although his cars were still there, homicide Lt. Derrick Alfred said.
On Tuesday, searchers using a cadaver dog returned and discovered badly burned skeletal remains in what may once have been a porch, Alfred said.
The remains were recovered Wednesday, but they haven't yet been officially identified, Alfred said.
The so-called Woolsey Fire started Nov. 8 and quickly became one of the largest and most destructive fires in state history. Firefighters have made steady progress this week but warned many hotspots remain.
Before sunrise Wednesday there was a flare-up in rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains as winds buffeted parts of the region. The flare-up sent a huge column of smoke out to sea as it burned in parklands well away from communities.
The National Weather Service said winds would slack off sufficiently during the afternoon to allow authorities to lower wildfire warnings from their highest "red flag" levels.
Forecasters cautioned, however, that low humidity levels would keep danger levels elevated.
Authorities allowed residents back into several more communities on Tuesday, including a section of Malibu. Other areas have been repopulated since the weekend. As many as 250,000 people were ordered out at the height of the fire.
"We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Tuesday.
The number of homes and other structures destroyed stood at 483 and another 86 were damaged. Those numbers were expected to rise. More than 80 percent of National Parks Service land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was incinerated.
Some people who stayed behind in coastal communities that were cut off by road closures got supplies by boat. Gas, food, baby wipes and horse pellets were among the items brought ashore in the Paradise Cove area of Malibu. Some residents donned wetsuits and swam ashore with cases of water and beer.
"It's pretty cool. It's really amazing that people out there know that we're kind of stranded here in Malibu," Cherie Millford Smart said.
The area has not seen such a destructive blaze since 1993.
The fire has left an array of hazards, including trees ready to fall, downed power lines, toxins, and water main and gas leaks.
A forecast of possible rain next week would help firefighters but also raised the prospect of potential mud flows.
A new fire erupted late Tuesday about 75 miles (121 kilometers) to the east in the Fontana area of San Bernardino County, but firefighters reported good progress overnight, holding the blaze to 147 acres (59 hectares).
The cause of the Woolsey Fire remained under investigation.
Washington, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) - Deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel is leaving the White House, one day after first lady Melania Trump's office issued an extraordinary statement calling for her dismissal.
No replacement was named. Aides said Ricardel clashed with the first lady's staff over her visit to Africa last month. Yet it is highly unusual for a first lady or her office to weigh in on personnel matters, especially the president's national security staff.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Ricardel will have a new role in the administration.
On Tuesday, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's spokeswoman, released a statement saying: "It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House."
President Donald Trump's White House has set records for administration turnover. Ricardel was the third person to hold the post under Trump.
An ally of national security adviser John Bolton, Ricardel began her service in the Trump administration as associate director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, then moved to the Commerce Department last year.
Bolton brought her into the West Wing shortly after taking the job in April. He is traveling in Asia this week alongside Vice President Mike Pence.
Chico, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — A message board at a shelter for the many people who fled California's deadliest wildfire is filled with photos of the missing, as well as pleas for any information about relatives and friends.
"I hope you are okay," reads one hand written note on the board filled with white and yellow sheets of notebook paper. Another had a picture of a missing man: "If seen, please have him call."
Authorities on Tuesday reported six more fatalities from the Northern California blaze, bringing the total number of dead so far to 48. They haven't disclosed the total number still missing, but earlier in the week that figure was more than 200.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said a list of the missing would be released soon and that 100 National Guard troops would help teams already looking for remains.
"We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can," he said. "This is a very difficult task."
As authorities increased efforts, people waited for any word on those still not found.
Greg Gibson was one of the people searching the message board Tuesday, hoping to find information about his neighbors. They've been reported missing, but he doesn't know if they tried to escape or hesitated a few minutes longer than he did before fleeing Paradise, the town of 27,000 which was consumed last Thursday. About 7,700 homes were destroyed.
"It happened so fast. It would have been such an easy decision to stay, but it was the wrong choice," Gibson said from the Neighborhood Church in Chico, California.
More than 1,000 people were at shelters set up for evacuees.
Inside the church, evacuee Harold Taylor chatted with newfound friends.
Taylor, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane, said he received a call Thursday morning to evacuate immediately. He saw the flames leaping up behind his house, left with the clothes on his back and barely made it out alive.
Along the way, he tried to convince his neighbor to get in his car and evacuate with him, but the neighbor declined. He doesn't know what happened to his friend.
"We didn't have 10 minutes to get out of there," he said. "It was already in flames downtown, all the local restaurants and stuff," he said.
The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone's genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.
"In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it's just such a lengthy process," says Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners' office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11 and is exploring how it might use a rapid DNA device.
Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.
At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California.
The flames roared to life again in a mountainous wilderness area Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke near the community of Lake Sherwood. Still, firefighters made gains.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he canceled a trip to Asia and will visit the fire zones Wednesday and Thursday.
The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.
People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not immediately returned.
Linda Rawlings was on a daylong fishing trip with her husband and 85-year-old father when the fire broke out.
Her next-door neighbors opened the back gate so her three dogs could escape before they fled the flames and the dogs were picked up several days later waiting patiently in the charred remains of their home, she said.
Rawlings learned on Tuesday morning — after days of uncertainty — that her "Smurf blue" home in Magalia was burnt to the ground.
She sat looking shell-shocked on the curb outside a hotel in Corning.
"Before, you always have hope," she said. "You don't want to give up. But now we know."