Toll of dead, missing rises in California town

PARADISE: Family members and survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history sought news on Friday on the 630 people missing a week after the fast-moving blaze reduced much of the town of Paradise to ash and charred rubble.
With nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned, fire refugees have taken up residence in tents or their vehicles and filled evacuation centres to overflowing. Search teams, meanwhile, are combing through burned-out areas looking for bodies — or anything that might carry human DNA.
Officials say many of those unaccounted for have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities that they are alive. At least 63 people were killed in and around Paradise, which was virtually destroyed by the Camp Fire, a blaze that erupted on November 8 in the Sierra foothills, 280 km north of San Francisco. The fire is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.
Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fuelled by desiccated scrub and trees.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said on Thursday the remains of another seven victims had been located since Wednesday’s tally of 56. Nearly 300 people reported missing have been found alive and the list of missing would fluctuate, he said.
Many on the missing list are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors have long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.
Brandon DuVall of Seattle said he last communicated with his retired father, Robert DuVall, in July after the father had bought a new pickup and camper. He received a call earlier this week that his father’s remains might have been found and now will go to California to provide a DNA sample. Relatives of retired US Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began, and relatives’ phonecalls have gone directly to his voicemail.
On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.
“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, said by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”
Some in Paradise were experiencing survivors’ guilt. “You’re like, ‘Why am I here?’” Sam Walker, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paradise, told WBUR radio. “’Why is my family all here? Why are our churches still standing?’ I don’t know. My house is gone, like so many others.”
Cal Fire said 40 per cent of the Camp Fire’s perimeter was contained, up from 35 per cent, even as the blaze’s footprint grew 2,000 acres to 141,000 acres.
— Reuters