Wednesday, 28 Feb 2024

Death toll from California wildfires rises to 71 after eight more bodies found, while more than 1,000 on missing list

More than 1,000 people are now on a list of those unaccounted for following a deadly Northern California wildfire – but authorities have stressed it does not mean all of them are missing.

The death toll was raised to 71 on Friday after eight more bodies were found, while the missing persons list grew from 631 on Thursday night to 1,011.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the list was dynamic and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings, as well as some who fled the blaze and do not realise they have been reported missing.

Some of the people among the ever-evolving tally have been confirmed as dead by family and friends on social media.

Others have been found safe, but authorities have not yet marked them as such.

In last year’s catastrophic wildfires in California wine country, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing. But they slowly whittled down the number.

In the end, 44 people died in several counties.

The wildfire this time all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow, destroying 9,700 houses and 144 apartment buildings, authorities said.

Firefighters were gaining ground against the blaze, which blackened 222 square miles. It was 45% contained and posed no immediate threat to populated areas.

Searches were also continuing for those who perished and those who survived the deadliest US wildfire in a century, ahead of a planned visit by president Donald Trump.

Some survivors resent that Mr Trump took to Twitter two days after the disaster to blame the wildfires on poor forest mismanagement. He threatened to withhold federal payments from California.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder, of Magalia, said on Thursday.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Mr Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close, adding: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness’, and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

In a Fox News interview on the eve of his visit, the president repeated his criticism. Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

In Southern California, meanwhile, more residents were being allowed back into their homes near Los Angeles after a blaze torched an area the size of Denver and destroyed more than 600 homes and other structures. The blaze was 69% contained, authorities said.

At least three deaths were reported.

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