Toll of dead, missing rises in wildfire-ravaged California town

Toll of dead, missing rises in wildfire-ravaged California town
PG&E unlikely to go bankrupt because of wildfires
PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – A search for victims of a catastrophic blaze that reduced a northern California town to ashes intensified on Thursday, as authorities expanded to 630 the number of those reported missing in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history.

At least 63 people have been confirmed dead in the Camp Fire, which erupted a week ago in the drought-parched Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco and now ranks as one of the most lethal single U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century.

Authorities attributed the high death toll in part to the staggering speed with which the wind-driven flames, fueled by desiccated scrub and trees, raced with little warning through Paradise, a town of 27,000.

The wildfire — which started on Nov. 8 — remains the deadliest in California state history, leaving more than 8,500 structures destroyed and 140,000 acres of land scorched. It was 40 percent contained as of Thursday night.

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Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings, including most of the town, were incinerated last Thursday night hours after the blaze erupted, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has said.

Over 10,000 Structures Destroyed By Camp Fire

What was left was a ghostly, smoky expanse of empty lots covered in ash and strewn with twisted wreckage and debris.

Thousands of additional structures were still threatened by the blaze, and as many as 50,000 people were under evacuation orders at the height of the blaze. An army of firefighters, many from distant states, labored to contain and suppress the flames.

The Camp Fire in Butte County has now destroyed 8,756 homes, 1,310 outbuildings and 260 commercial buildings. 56 people are now confirmed dead and many more remain unaccounted for. The fire is now 140,000 acres and 40-percent contained. While touring the fire area yesterday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stated, This is my fourth trip to California, and unfortunately every trip has had forest fires. Each trip I say this is the worst fire I have seen, and now were here today, and Ill say this is the worst fire that I have seen.

Video: More than 600 missing in California blazes

The revised official roster of 630 individuals whose whereabouts and fate remained unknown is more than double the 297 listed earlier in the day by the Butte County Sheriffs Office.

Governor Jerry Brown escorted Zinke on the trip, and stated, Ive issued an executive order that will speed up recovery and cut red tape. It will overcome some regulations and other kinds of laws that get in our way. It looks like a war zone, and it is. It is the devastation that only fires of this kind can bring about.

The higher confirmed death toll, and rising number of those unaccounted for, were revealed at an evening news briefing by Honea, who said the remains of seven more Camp Fire victims had been located since Wednesdays tally of 56.

Following Zinkes trip, this morning President Donald Trump tweeted, Just spoke to Governor Jerry Brown to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!

The sheriff has asked relatives of the missing to submit DNA samples to hasten identification of the dead. But he acknowledged some of those unaccounted for may never be conclusively found.

The Butte County disaster coincided with a flurry of smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which has been linked with three fatalities and destroyed at least 500 structures in the mountains and foothills near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.

Some evacuees helped sort immense piles of donations that have poured in. Racks of used clothes from sweaters to plaid flannel shirts and tables covered with neatly organized pairs of boots, sneakers and shoes competed for space with shopping carts full of clothes, garbage bags stuffed with other donations and boxes of books. Stuffed animals — yellow, purple and green teddy bears and a menagerie of other fuzzy critters — sat on the pavement.

The latest blazes have capped a pair of calamitous wildfire seasons in California that scientists largely attribute to prolonged drought they say is symptomatic of climate change.

Margaret Newsum, 93, had no idea that the Camp Fire was rapidly approaching her Magalia home until her caretaker left for the day and she turned on the television. She was quickly rescued by her friend Dane Ray Cummings, who decided to break company policy and rescue Newsum with his Waste Management truck. KCRA reports.

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The cause of the fires are under investigation. But two electric utilities have said they sustained equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

“The ultimate goal is to get these people out of tents, out of their cars and into warm shelter, into homes,” said Jessica Busick, who was among the first volunteers when she and her husband started serving free food from their Truckaroni food truck last week. “Weve always known this isnt a long-term solution.”

The White House said on Thursday that President Donald Trump, who has been criticized as having politicized the fires by casting blame on forest mismanagement, plans to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents.

As California fire death toll reaches 63, missing list jumps to 631

Cal Fire said that 40 percent of the Camp Fires perimeter had been contained, up from 35 percent, even as the blaze footprint grew 2,000 acres to 141,000 acres (57,000 hectares). Containment of the Woolsey fire grew to 57 percent.

Driving past the smoldering ruins of downtown, Patrick Knuthson, a 49-year-old, fourth-generation local, struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. He pointed out places that once were, and were no more: a saloon-style pub, his favorite Mexican restaurant, a classic California motel, the pawn shop, a real estate office, a liquor store, the thrift center and auto repair shop, the remodeled Jack in the Box burger outlet, entire trailer parks.

2. Humans are a wildfire threat multiplier

But smoke and soot spread far and wide. Public schools in Sacramento and districts 90 miles (145 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, said Fridays classes would be canceled as the Camp Fire worsened air quality.

“Paradise is everything the name implies,” said Tom Hurst, 67, who grew up there and raised horses at his 7-acre Outlaws Roost ranch. He has relatives in the local cemetery dating back to the early 1900s, and he refuses to talk about the town in the past tense. In fact, some buildings still stand, among them the town hall, the 750-seat performing arts center, the Feather River Hospital, its newer sections damaged but intact.

Those who survived the flames but lost homes were moving in temporarily with friends or relatives or bunking down in American Red Cross shelters.

Thus, more than 170 years ago, Paradise was born. From the start, it was enriched with gold mined from nearby hills and lumber harvested from the forests. Over generations, thousands lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradises place in American history.

At a shelter set in a church in nearby Oroville, a bulletin board was plastered with dozens of photos of missing people, along with messages and phone numbers. Church officials posted lists of names they received in phone calls from people searching for friends and family. Evacuees are asked to check the boards to see if their names appear.

In the fall theyd celebrate Johnny Appleseed days, gathering at the recreation center for a crafts fair and games. This is when Paradisians would feast on more than 1,000 pies baked with fruit from Noble Orchards, a nearly century-old farm on Paradise Ridge where trees were heavy with cherries, nectarines, pluots and 17 varieties of apples.

Many others found haven at an encampment that sprang up in the parking lot outside a still-open Walmart store in Paradise, where dozens of evacuees pitched tents or slept in their cars. Part of the lot was roped off as a distribution center for clothes, food and coffee. Portable toilets were also brought in.

Asked whether the bill provides proper compensation for wildfire victims, a spokesperson for Gov. Brown said: We will let the Governors signature of the bill and his comments speak for themselves. The Governors spokesperson pointed to a recent comment from Brown saying, at the end of the day, its the Federal Government, which our taxpayers provide; its the state government, which our taxpayers provide; or its the utility users that put up a lot of the money or its some shareholders.

Evacuees milling in the parking lot faced morning temperatures that dropped to just above freezing and many wore breathing masks for protection from lingering smoke.

While the cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, if the Utilitys equipment is determined to be the cause, the Utility could be subject to significant liability in excess of insurance coverage that would be expected to have a material impact on PG&E Corporations and the Utilitys financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, and cash flows, the filing states.

Nicole and Eric Montague, along with their 16-year-old daughter, showed up for free food but have been living with extended family in the neighboring city of Chico, in a one-bedroom apartment filled with 15 people and nine dogs.

“We didnt have any time to react,” Eric said. “The news didnt even know the fire was coming. It just happened so quick.”

Because the cause of the fire has not been determined, it is uncertain if PG&E could be liable for any of the damages. In regards to stock prices, PG&E is not speculating or commenting on what factors may or may not be impacting the stock market, PG&E said in a statement to Yahoo Finance.

Nicole said she fled once her homes mailbox caught fire and neighbors propane tanks began exploding. Facing walls of flames and traffic gridlock, her evacuation with her daughter was so harrowing that she called her husband to say farewell.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan OBrien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Nick Carey, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)

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New York (CNN Business)Shares of California electric company PG&E soared Friday on new hopes that the company wont have to go bankrupt if it is found to be liable for the massive Camp Fire in Northern California.


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