Cool weather helped fire crews gain ground Thursday against the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in a century, as the search went on for more bodies in the ashes of Paradise and surrounding communities in Northern California.
At least 63 people have been killed and over 600 others are missing a week after the flames swept through.
The nearly 570-square-kilometre blaze was 40 per cent contained, the state fire agency said.
More than 450 searchers were assigned to look for remains in Paradise, which was all but destroyed from the so-called Camp Fire, and outlying areas such as Magalia, a forested Northern California town of about 11,000. Many of the missing were elderly and from Magalia.
“If this town does recover, it’s going to take many, many years,” said Johnny Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who lives up the road from many burned homes.
Police drove around town, searching for those still in their homes and checking if they needed food and water.
Officials in Northern California put the number of homes lost there at 9,700.
More than 5,000 fire personnel were battling the blaze, which has displaced 52,000 people.
At the other end of the state, crews continued to battle wildfires in Southern California, including a blaze of more than 396 square kilometres that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and nearby communities. At least three deaths were reported.
‘Not the time to point fingers’
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to Paradise on Wednesday, saying 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 higher temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.
The governor said 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.”
U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to California on Saturday to meet with victims, but the White House said Thursday that it is still arranging details of his trip.
Previously, Trump blamed the fires of California’s “poor” forest management and threatened to cut funding to the state.
Watch: Donald Trump threatens to cut California fire funding
‘I honestly can’t believe it just didn’t get levelled’
While most of Paradise was wiped out, in Magalia, a sharp dividing line marked those who survived and those who 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.
Tom Driver, the office manager and elder at Magalia Community Church, said he heard the church made it through the blaze, though he did not know whether his own home did.
“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.”
Kim Bonini, one of those who got out safely Nov. 8, left after hearing someone on a bullhorn two blocks over urging people to leave. The power in her home had gone out that morning, leaving her with only her car radio.
“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.
“If I wouldn’t have heard them two blocks down, I wouldn’t have known I had to evacuate.”