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Butte Camp Fire now deadliest in California history; 56 dead [Updated]

Reported death toll breaks 85-year-old record

Chris and Nancy Brown embrace while searching through the remains of their home, leveled by the Camp Fire. Nancy Brown escaped from the home with her 2-year-old and three dogs.
Photo by AP/Noah Berger

Update November 14: As of Tuesday even, the death toll has climbed to 56.

“I want to tell you, though, this is a very, very difficult process,” Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory L. Honea told reporters. “There’s certainly the unfortunate possibility that even after we search an area, once we get people back in there, it’s possible that human remains can be found.”

The fire has burned 130,000 acres, with 35 percent containment.

Update November 13: Monday night, Cal Fire issue a new report on the fire, including a new confirmed death toll of 42.

Fire crews have been conducting searches for the hundreds of missing persons in Paradise and the surrounding region, and in many cases recovering previous undiscovered remains.

The Butte County Sheriff’s department also released the names of the first publicly identified fire victims: Carl Wiley of Magalia, Ernest Foss of Paradise, and Jesus Fernandez of Concow.

The death toll is expected to rise as searches continue. The fire has burned 125,000 acres.

The devastating Camp Fire—which has burned an estimated 113,000 acres in Butte County in only four days—has already set multiple state fire records, including tying the worst conflagrations in history. As of Monday morning, the blaze is now one of the deadliest wildfires in California history.

Cal Fire reported 29 civilian casualties from the blaze, which started early in the morning on November 8. More than 200 remain missing.

On Friday the toll sat at 23, at the time the third highest from a wildfire in California, just behind the 1991 Oakland Hills fire that killed 25.

The newest casualty reports tie the Camp Fire with the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles. The fire continues to spread at just 25 percent containment despite the efforts of over 4,500 firefighting personnel.

All of the casualties from the relatively small 47-acre Griffith Park fire were civilian firefighters tasked with clearing roads of brush as part of a Depression-era work program. (Note that the official death toll was 29, but some sources reported a count as high as 58.)

In Butte County, volunteers at evacuation centers in cities like Chico and Yuba City tell Curbed SF that concerned parties can check the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well site to see whether loved ones have registered at any center currently tended by the Red Cross.

However, some shelter workers, at places like the Nazarene Church in Oroville, tell Curbed SF that evacuees’ names are kept confidential and that they do not register them with the Red Cross database. Inquiries may only be made in person.

On top of the deadly nature of the fire, the Camp Fire also swiftly became the most destructive in state history, with an estimated 6,453 destroyed residences on top of 260 commercial buildings.

Previously, the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma County, which devastated much of Santa Rosa, was the state’s worst after destroying a total of 5,636 structures.

Rapidly-Spreading Wildfire In California’s Butte County Prompts Evacuations Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Before that, the record had stood since 1991, when the Oakland hills fire wiped out an estimated 2,900 homes and businesses.

Cal Fire estimates that the ongoing Camp Fire threatens some 15,500 additional structures.

The town of Paradise (population of approximately 26,600) has been particularly hard hit by the fire; the entire city was evacuated and thousands of homes were destroyed.

For perspective, the U.S.Census estimated a Paradise household count of 10,827 in 2017, meaning that the fire destroyed the equivalent of 60 percent of the town’s homes.

The Camp Fire death toll is expected to climb.