Death toll in California's deadliest wildfire rises to 50


California fire firefighters and search and rescue volunteers comb through a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, US, November. 13, 2018. (Photo: VCG)

At least 50 deaths have been reported statewide in California so far from the late-season wildfires, and with hundreds of people unaccounted for, the toll is likely to rise.

Rescue teams in northern California recovered the remains of six more victims late Tuesday, taking the death toll to 48 in the Camp Fire, which now ranks as the most fatal and destructive wildfire disaster to have struck the western US state in recorded history. Two additional deaths have been reported from the Woolsey Fire, north of Los Angeles.

The latest casualties were announced by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea as forensic teams with cadaver dogs combed through a ghostly landscape strewn with ash and charred debris in Paradise, California, in the Sierra foothills about 175 miles north of San Francisco.

The intensified effort to locate victims came on the sixth day of a blaze that incinerated about 7,100 homes and other buildings, including most of Paradise, a town once home to 27,000 people.

Honea had previously said that 228 people were listed as missing, and his office also was working to determine the fate of nearly 1,300 individuals whose loved ones had requested "well-being checks" on their behalf.

By Tuesday, the killer blaze dubbed the Camp Fire had blackened 125,000 acres (50,500 hectares) of drought-parched scrub, up 8,000 acres from the night before, but crews had carved containment lines around nearly a third of the fire's expanding perimeter.

More than 50,000 area residents remained under evacuation orders and 15,500 structures were still listed as threatened by the blaze.

However, diminished winds and higher humidity levels allowed crews to make headway against the flames, fire officials said.

The news was likewise more upbeat on the southern end of California's wildfire front, where a blaze called the Woolsey Fire has killed two people, destroyed over 400 structures and displaced some 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.

The Woolsey Fire, which also began on Thursday, has razed 93,662 acres (37,900 hectares) including the 100-year-old Paramount Ranch where HBO's "Westworld" and other popular television shows and movies were filmed.

Seven evacuation shelters have been set up in Butte County, three of which are already full, according to the authorities.

Fires last year forced the state to pay close to 10 billion US dollars in damages. At this point, the number of fires and acreage burned this year is higher than the same six-month period in 2017 and 2018, totaling far above the five-year average.

There have been 830,846 acres burned by wildfires in the state, about four and half times as big as New York City.

California's continuous battle with drought along with unusually high temperatures and dry vegetation has contributed to the devastating, destructive fires this year.