Death toll rises to 31 in California wildfires, 228 people missing: Sheriff

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – The statewide death toll from wildfires in California climbed to 31 after authorities in Northern California confirmed six additional deaths on Sunday.

That makes it the deadliest wildfire on record in California history.

Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea said the human remains recovered on Sunday included five bodies found at homes and one in a vehicle in Paradise.

He also announced that 228 people remain unaccounted for, raising the number of people missing by more than 100 since the fire began Thursday.

Ten search and recovery teams were working in Paradise – a town of 27,000 that was largely incinerated – and in surrounding communities. Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history.

By early afternoon, one of the two black hearses stationed in Paradise had picked up another set of remains.

People looking for friends or relatives called evacuation centres, hospitals, police and the coroner’s office.

Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighbourhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.

Bechtold posted a flyer on social media, pinned it to bulletin boards at shelters and showed her picture around to evacuees, asking if anyone recognized her. He ran across a few of Caddy’s neighbours, but they hadn’t seen her.

As he drove through the smoke and haze to yet another shelter, he said, “I’m also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother’s somewhere and you don’t know where she’s at. You don’t know if she’s safe.”

He added: “I’ve got to stay positive. She’s a strong, smart woman.”

Officials and relatives held out hope that many of those unaccounted for were safe and simply had no cellphones or other ways to contact loved ones. The sheriff’s office in the stricken northern county set up a missing-persons call centre to help connect people.

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