Members of the California Army National Guard search a property for human remains at the Camp fire, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Northern California fire death toll at 56; 130 missing

Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.

As the scope of a deadly Northern California wildfire set in, the sheriff said more than 450 people had now been assigned to comb through the charred remains in search for more bodies. The blaze has killed at least 56 people and authorities say 130 are unaccounted for.

Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.

The one major roadway that runs through the mostly residential town is dotted with gas stations, a pizza shop, a hair salon and Chinese restaurant and convenience stores. There is no Main Street or town centre. Resident Johnny Pohmagevich says a Rite Aid on the main road is as much of a centre as the town has.

“When I say downtown I mean Paradise,” said Pohmagevich, who opted to stay in Magalia even as fire closed in.

Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who works at Timber Ridge Real Estate and lives just up the road from many burned homes, said he stayed to protect his employer’s property from looters and to prepare some cabins and mobile homes so business tenants can live if they come back.

“If this town does recover, it’s going to take many, many years,” he said.

Read more: Northern California wildfire is deadliest in state history

Read more: Wildfire death toll rises in California as search for missing continues

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. Crews from Pacific Gas & Electric are also in the area. 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.

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 levelled 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, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump’s policies, said he spoke with 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 .

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 levelled,” 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.

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.

___

Associated Press writers Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, also contributed to this report.

Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ponoka resident earns PhD in neuroscience

Carolyn Fleck- Prediger will continue work with patients with brain injury

PHOTOS: Pacific Equine Sport Winter Jumper Series

Held Jan. 18 at the Calnash Ag Event Centre

Bantam Broncs dish out annual awards

Story and photos of awards banquet held Jan. 16

Town trusts purchaser to complete stucco work on the former Kinsmen Centre

A short town council meeting Jan. 14 dealt with a number of… Continue reading

Burn ‘N’ Mahn Dueling Pianos Extreme show coming to Ponoka

Show will be held at the Ponoka Legion on Jan. 25

VIDEO: Trudeau insists Iran respect families’ wishes when it comes to burials

All 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 were killed

Canada prepares as WHO decides whether to declare global coronavirus emergency

The city of Wuhan, China, has shut down outbound flights and trains

Survey finds support among Canadians for broader assisted-dying law

The survey was conducted Jan. 17 to 21 among 1,552 Canadians eligible to vote

New nasal spray launched in Canada to combat hypoglycemic shock in diabetics

Baqsimi is a nasal spray contains three milligrams of glucagon

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

‘Naughty boy’: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77

The comedian has been suffering from a rare form of dementia

Alberta premier wants federal government to do more about opioid imports

Jason Kenney says Canada should find ways to cut down on drugs being smuggled into the country

Alberta Energy Regulator laying off staff, restructures, deals with budget cuts

Gordon Lambert, interim CEO, says the changes are part of a restructuring

Most Read