At least 42 people have died in the Camp Fire in northern California, making it the single deadliest blaze in the state’s history. And with hundreds of people still missing, officials warned that the death toll will likely spike over the coming days.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said late Monday that search and rescue teams had found 13 more bodies in and around the town of Paradise, which was incinerated by the inferno.
Victims were found in their homes and even behind the wheel of their cars, as they attempted to escape the fast-moving fire that ignited last Thursday.
The record death toll for a California fire was 31, which dated back to the Griffith Park disaster in 1933.
Search teams have already started the grim task of combing the charred remains of more than 7,000 buildings destroyed in the last five days.
Officials revealed Monday that at least 228 people are officially listed as missing, but Honea said his office had received requests to check on the wellbeing of more than 1,500 people by anxious family and friends. Just 231 of the 1,500 have so far turned up save, the sheriff said.
Authorities have brought in two mobile army morgue units and are requesting 150 search-and-rescue personnel to aid the rescue effort.
“I want to recover as many remains as we possibly can, as soon as we can. Because I know the toll it takes on loved ones,” Honea said, warning that it could take weeks to locate and identify some victims.
Elsewhere in the state, blazes continue to threaten.
At least two people have died in the Woolsey Fire in southern California, and firefighters are preparing for worse conditions Tuesday as the Santa Ana winds approach hurricane force.
More than 300,000 people across the state have been displaced, with many still under mandatory evacuation orders, as the fires continue to threaten homes and businesses.
Officials said the cause of the fires is still under investigation.
Donald Trump was criticized over the weekend after threatening to withhold emergency aid from California, and blaming the fires on the state’s poor “forest management.” In a volte-face Monday, he praised the work of the emergency services and approved a request for a Major Disaster Declaration that will provide the state with federal resources.
Adding to the chaos, two new wildfires started Monday in Ventura County. The Rocky Peak Fire has burned about 20 acres, officials said and the nearby Lynn Fire has scorched some 15 acres. Firefighters said that while buildings are at risk, they believe the blazes will be contained.
Cover image: Alameda County Sheriff Coroner officers search for human remains at a burned residence in Paradise, California on November 12, 2018. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images).