Rescue workers said on Friday they were searching for more than 1,000 people reported missing in a northern California town reduced to ashes by the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, as the death toll increased to 71.
The sheriff’s “unaccounted for” list from the Camp fire leapt by hundreds of people for a second successive evening, up from 631 missing a day earlier.
Officials on Friday said remains of eight more victims had been found in and around the town of Paradise. The Camp fire, which erupted a week ago in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280km) north of San Francisco, is the country’s deadliest in a century.
The Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea, said Friday that a list that he released Thursday of 631 names has now increased to 1,011 names. He called it “a dynamic list” that would fluctuate up and down and urged the public to consult the list to see if their names are on it and let authorities know if they are OK.
The White House announced that Donald Trump would visit California on Saturday to meet with victims of the deadly wildfires raging in northern and southern California.
Critics say Trump politicized the fires by casting blame on forest mismanagement; he repeated his statements in an interview with Fox News to be broadcast Sunday.
Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.
Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection (Cal Fire) said. The fire left a ghostly expanse of empty lots covered in ash and strewn with debris.
Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, labored to contain and suppress the flames.
The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.
Honea has asked relatives of the missing to submit DNA samples to hasten identification of the dead. But he said some of those unaccounted for may never be identified.
About 52,000 are displaced in shelters, motels and the homes of friends and relatives. Others are at a Walmart parking lot and an adjacent field in Chico, a dozen miles away from the ashes.
At the vast shelter parking lot, evacuees from California’s deadliest fire wonder if they still have homes, if their neighbors are still alive and where they will go when their place of refuge shuts down in a matter of days.
“It’s cold and scary,” said Lilly Batres, 13, one of the few children there, who fled with her family from the forested town of Magalia and didn’t know whether her home was still standing. “I feel like people are going to come into our tent,” she told the Associated Press.
The fire grew to 140,000 acres, or 219 sq miles, on Thursday as crews managed to push containment up to 40%. Authorities were able to lift evacuation orders in some areas near Chico and Forest Ranch.
Wind conditions are expected to worsen this weekend.
The were other smaller blazes in southern California including the Woolsey fire that is linked to three deaths and destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles sheriff began allowing residents to return to certain parts of Malibu, and the smaller communities of Lake Sherwood and Hidden Valley.
Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are linked to drought they say is symptomatic of climate change.
Cal Fire said 40% of the Camp fire’s perimeter is contained, up from 35%, even as the blaze footprint grew 2,000 acres to 141,000 acres (57,000 hectares). The Woolsey fire is 57% contained.
Public schools in Sacramento and districts 90 miles to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, said Friday’s classes would be canceled as the fire worsened air quality.
Many of those who survived the flames but lost homes stayed with friends or relatives or at American Red Cross shelters.
Fire investigators have also identified a possible second origin of the Camp fire, the cause of which remains under investigation.
Thursday marked a busy day for authorities in northern California. Police officers were involved in a shooting in an area under evacuation that left one man and two dogs dead, including a police dog.
The Butte county district attorney, Mike Ramsey, said the man was a 48-year-old from Berry Creek who was a suspect in a 2014 double murder. When approached by officers, he allegedly reached for a gun after saying: “I’m not going back. You guys should have left me alone.”