BUTTE COUNTY, California — The list of people unaccounted for in California’s Camp Fire has reached a staggering level.
According to a list released by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday night, nearly 300 people were listed as unaccounted.
Also on Wednesday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office reported an additional eight fatalities. In a Facebook post, the sheriff said the remains were located in Paradise. Six sets of remains were found inside structures, the additional sets were found in outside structures.
That brings the death toll from the fire to 56. Statewide, the death toll is 58.
Investigators will start collecting DNA samples from relatives of the missing Thursday to help identify any remains that are found.
“This is a daunting task we feel really bad for the people who don’t know what happened to their loved ones and our hearts go out to them,” Butte County Sheriff’s Investigations Sgt. Steve Collins said. “We want to give them some answers.”
Troops, cadaver dogs and coroners involved
The somber search for the missing is painstaking.
It involves 461 people and 22 cadaver dogs in Paradise and parts of Magalia and Concow communities, authorities said.
Dozens of National Guard troops are part of the search effort, Collins said. Once they find the remains, with the help of forensic experts, the coroners are sent to recover them.
To enable searchers access to the destroyed structures, CalFire crews are helping move collapsed buildings and roofs out of the way.
The white overalls protect the rescue crews from ash and debris and help avoid contamination, Collins said.
“They are going to be searching vehicles that have been burned. They’ll be searching residences that have been burned. Checking around the residences. …. Our mission is to find the victims from this fire, recover them and get them identified and notify the families to give them some answers.”
The search area is wide and spread out.
“It’s not just the area it’s the number of homes, the number of trailers, the multistory buildings. All of that changes the complexity of this operation,” Collins said.
Experts are conducting targeted searches by first sending deputies to areas in which people have been reported missing. The number is changing daily with more calls coming in.
“We’re trying to follow up with those people who are calling in to find out if they’ve made any contact with their loved ones,” Collins said. “We’re asking people to call us if they do come in contact with their loved one so that we don’t spend time looking for somebody that’s already found.”
Suspected outbreak of norovirus reported
More than 9,600 firefighters, including many from out of state, are battling wildfires across California.
The Camp Fire, which has destroyed 8,650 homes and scorched 138,000 acres in Northern California, is one of several in the state. By early Thursday, it was 35% contained.
Adding to the misery for evacuees of the Camp Fire, officials reported a suspected outbreak of norovirus at a shelter in Chico. Evacuees showed some symptoms, but officials are awaiting for test results for confirmation.
The stomach bug causes vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
Other fires in the state
In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire has killed at least two people in Malibu. Authorities are trying to determine whether a third person found in a burned home in Agoura Hills died as a result of that fire, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
A new blaze, the Sierra Fire in San Bernardino County, started late Tuesday east of Los Angeles. By early Thursday, it had burned 147 acres and was 85% contained, Cal Fire said.
Another blaze, the Hill Fire in Ventura County, had burned 4,531 acres and was 96% contained
More than 230,000 acres burned in California in the past week. That’s larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. And in 30 days, firefighters have battled more than 500 blazes, said Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency.
More than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes statewide. Most of those live in Los Angeles County, where 170,000 were evacuated.
The evacuees included celebrities who lost their homes in Malibu as well as first responders who are still working despite their own homes being destroyed.