Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California

Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California

One landowner near where the blaze began, Betsy Ann Cowley, said Pacific Gas & Electric had notified her the day before the fire that crews needed to come onto her property because the utility's power lines were sparking.

The most significant is the Camp Fire in the north, where 29 people have been confirmed dead, making it the equal worst fire on record in the state.

"Progress is being made", said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) at a news conference flanked by Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials. "It is a war zone", Brown said.

The declaration comes two days after Trump tweeted the wildfires were caused by inefficient forest management.

Pressed by reporters on Wednesday, Zinke demurred. "It is a time for America to stand together".

The blaze, fuelled by thick, drought-desiccated scrub, has capped two back-to-back catastrophic wildfire seasons in California that scientists largely ascribe to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

"There are potentially over a hundred people that were killed in Butte, potentially", said CAL Fire Chief Thom Porter.

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Meanwhile, an estimated 435 structures have been destroyed in the Woolsey Fire west of Los Angeles, up from the 177 figure provided on Sunday night.

Honea said more than 200 people remain missing in and around the wooded town of Paradise in northern California, which sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and was popular with retirees, The New York Times reported.

As officials raised the loss of homes to almost 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.

The Camp Fire also stands as one of the deadliest USA wildfires since the turn of the last century. More than 80 people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the northern Rockies in August 1910, consuming 1.2 million hectares.

Driver said many residents of Magalia work at the university in Chico or out of their homes. A body that was discovered near Agoura Hills Wednesday was identified by family members as 73-year-old Alfred Deciutiis, a retired oncologist. He said it was possible some of the missing might never be found.

Authorities attributed the high number of casualties to the staggering speed with which the wind-driven flames blew through Paradise.

Authorities fear that in the crush to flee the fast-approaching flames, some elderly residents may have been left behind. Some victims were found in or around the burned-out wreckage of their vehicles.

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