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Death toll in Northern California wildfire grows to 76

Image: Trump Visits California Wildfires
Residents watch the motorcade pass during President Donald Trump visit of the Camp Fire in Chico, California on Nov. 17, 2018. Copyright Paul Kitagaki Jr. Pool via Getty Images
Copyright Paul Kitagaki Jr. Pool via Getty Images
By Phil Helsel with NBC News U.S. News
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"There's really no way to describe just the pure devastation," a fire official said.


The number of people killed in California's deadliest wildfire rose Saturday to 76 as search and rescue continued the grim task of looking for the dead amid the ashes in Butte County, the sheriff said.

The remains of five more people were found in Paradise and the community of Concow, Butte County Sheriff-Coroner Kory L. Honea said. Four of the remains were discovered in homes in Paradise, and one was found outside of a structure in Concow.

In Southern California, three people have been killed in another wildfire, bringing the deaths from the two fires statewide to at least 79.

The number of names on a list of people unaccounted for in the wake of the Camp Fire grew to 1,276, up from 1,011 on Friday, but Honea said some of those reports may be duplicates or people who survived but who have not looked at the list or notified authorities. More than 700 people previously listed as unaccounted for have been found, he said. Of the 76 dead, officials have tentatively identified 63.

Earlier Saturday, President Donald Trump visited the fire zone in Butte County and met with first responders and those impacted by the fire.

"To see what's happened here — nobody would have ever thought this could have happened," Trump said in the town of Paradise, which has 26,000 residents who have been devastated by the Camp Fire.

Trump pledged that the federal government is with California in its recovery efforts. "We're all going to work together, and we'll do a real job," Trump said. "But this is very sad to see."

The president also traveled to Southern California where another fire, the so-called Woolsey Fire which also broke out Nov. 8, has burned more than 98,300 acres and destroyed more than 800 homes and other structures.

The Camp Fire that broke out early morning on Nov. 8 was whipped by high winds and moved so fast that at one point it was estimated to have been burning the equivalent of 80 football fields a minute, said Sacramento Fire Capt. Chris Vestal, who is part of the containment effort.

"It burned about 6,000 acres from the initial reports within the first couple of hours," Vestal said. Sacramento is around 80 miles south of Paradise.

A neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, 2018 in Paradise, California.
A neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, 2018 in Paradise, California.Justin Sullivan

When Vestal reached Paradise, he said the destruction was hard to put into words.

"It's a mess," Vestal said. "There's really no way to describe just the pure devastation — there's very few homes left, the damage to retail and commercial buildings is significant," he said.

"We want to make sure that we do what we can right now to control the fire, but also help that community return, and help them be vibrant again," Vestal said. "It's going to be a long road, however."

The Camp Fire has destroyed at least 9,891 residences and 367 commercial buildings, along with other structures, making it the most destructive wildfire in California's history; the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties destroyed 5,636 structures.

Also the deadliest wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire has eclipsed the somber milestone of the 29 killed in the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles. More than 3,700 workers were maintaining trails and building roads in the park when that fire broke out on Oct. 3, 1933, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Around 149,000 acres have burned in Butte County as of Saturday evening and the fire was 55 percent contained, a Cal Fire official said.

A firefighter searches for human remains in a trailer park destroyed in the Camp Fire on Nov. 16, 2018, in Paradise, California.
A firefighter searches for human remains in a trailer park destroyed in the Camp Fire on Nov. 16, 2018, in Paradise, California.John Locher

Searchers are going door-to-door and car-to-car to look for victims who may be in the burn zone. An official involved in the search said Friday that the area to be searched, with more than 10,000 destroyed structures, is "huge."

In addition to the destruction in Northern California, the Woolsey Fire, which also broke out on Nov. 8, has wreaked havoc in Southern California.


The blaze, which burned an area nearly the size of Denver, in Los Angeles and Ventura counties was 82 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.

The causes of the both fires are still under investigation.

Another fire in southern California, the Hill Fire, has been deemed 100 percent contained, but not before it charred more than 4,500 acres in Ventura County and destroyed four structures. Fire officials determined it was started by some sort of human activity. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information as to anyone who may have been responsible.

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