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Rain Could Hamper Search for Victims of California Wildfire

The Camp Fire, which burned at least 236 square miles (611 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 12,000 homes, was 70 percent contained on Monday.

Posted: Nov 20, 2018 10:04 AM
Updated: Nov 20, 2018 10:08 AM

By SUDHIN THANAWALA and JANIE HAR , Associated Press

CHICO, Calif. (AP) — 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.

With 79 people killed in the nation's deadliest wildfire in at least a century, there are still nearly 700 names on the list of those unaccounted for. While it's down from nearly 1,000 the day before, it is inexact, 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.

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 236 square miles (611 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 12,000 homes, was 70 percent 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 140 miles (225 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 Northern California 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.

___

Har reported from San Francisco.

___

Associated Press journalists Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, and Paul Elias and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 156287

Reported Deaths: 2252
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah31935542
Washington21311212
Marion18541285
Clackamas13426183
Lane10325129
Jackson8489114
Umatilla767882
Deschutes597561
Yamhill379168
Linn360157
Malheur335358
Polk307343
Klamath279855
Douglas252755
Josephine236553
Benton234817
Jefferson196628
Coos152420
Union129519
Columbia127421
Wasco122126
Lincoln113620
Hood River106929
Morrow104914
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Baker6639
Curry4296
Tillamook4212
Lake3786
Harney2776
Grant2251
Wallowa1425
Gilliam541
Sherman530
Wheeler221
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3582320

Reported Deaths: 53083
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles119601721676
Riverside2904983849
San Bernardino2870552959
Orange2617983966
San Diego2613533342
Santa Clara1110761798
Kern103756915
Fresno957851451
Sacramento937901498
Alameda809501271
Ventura77952870
San Joaquin671231150
Contra Costa62931695
Stanislaus56433953
Tulare48114768
Monterey42335329
San Mateo39148521
San Francisco34387422
Santa Barbara32147420
Solano30216165
Merced29264407
Sonoma28261301
Imperial26926638
Kings22091220
Placer19911232
San Luis Obispo19751238
Madera15523214
Santa Cruz14736183
Marin13285198
Yolo12867185
Shasta11054179
Butte11007167
El Dorado9195100
Napa908072
Sutter889998
Yuba577638
San Benito577061
Lassen562324
Tehama510452
Nevada398874
Tuolumne396659
Mendocino382643
Amador347441
Humboldt323033
Lake316941
Glenn223223
Colusa214013
Calaveras191849
Siskiyou178414
Inyo132137
Mono12144
Del Norte10085
Plumas6536
Modoc4604
Mariposa3957
Trinity3735
Sierra1000
Alpine820
Unassigned00
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