The sheriff has announced that more than 450 people had now been assigned to comb through the charred remains in search for more bodies in the deadly Northern California wildfire.
The blaze has killed at least 56 people and authorities say 130 are unaccounted for — and it has all but completely wiped the town of Paradise off the map. Many of the missing are elderly are from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.
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. 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.
CNN captured devastating drone footage of the destruction in Paradise on Thursday —
Drone footage captures the scale of devastation in Paradise, California, where large swaths of land and many homes have been reduced to ash by the deadliest wildfire in California history. https://t.co/J0riKVmtnp pic.twitter.com/FxibxHdI1H
— CNN (@CNN) November 15, 2018
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 said he spoke with President Donald 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.
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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.
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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.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.