Joseph Grado and Susan Grado hug one another while staying at a shelter for fire victims in Chico, California. Picture: AP
Joseph Grado and Susan Grado hug one another while staying at a shelter for fire victims in Chico, California. Picture: AP

Huge number of missing in fires

The death toll from horrific wildfires that have devastated northern California is feared to rise sharply, with more than 600 people unaccounted for.

Firefights in the US state have managed to contain almost have of the mega blaze - the worst the United States has seen in more than a century - but still face a monumental task.

Authorities said 63 people are confirmed dead and 631 are missing, as rescue workers begin sifting through the ashes to search for more bodies.

Some 52,000 people are displaced in shelters, motels and the homes of friends and relatives.

Others have filled a Walmart car [park and an adjacent field in Chico, a dozen kilometres away from the wildfires.

Evacuees wonder if they still have homes, if their neighbours are still alive - and where they will go when their place of refuge shuts down in a matter of days.

The Northern California fire began a week ago and has entirely razed the town of Paradise.

Searchers have pulled bodies from incinerated homes and cremated cars but said in many cases, the victims may have been reduced to bits of bones and ash.

 

Search and rescue personnel peer into a car with suspected human remains. Picture: AP
Search and rescue personnel peer into a car with suspected human remains. Picture: AP

 

Krystin Harve comforts her daughter Araya Cipollini at the remains of their home in Paradise, California. Picture: AP
Krystin Harve comforts her daughter Araya Cipollini at the remains of their home in Paradise, California. Picture: AP

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea is hopeful that many of those unaccounted for include people who fled and don't know they're being sought.

He made that list public so that those people can let authorities know they're safe, he said.

Some on the list have been confirmed as dead by family and friends on social media while others have been located and are safe.

However, authorities haven't gotten around to marking them as found.

Tamara Conry said she should never have been the list.

"My husband and I are not missing and never were!" Conry wrote on Facebook. "We have no family looking for us. … I called and left a message to take our names off."

 

A firefighter battles a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in Simi Valley, California. Picture: AP
A firefighter battles a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in Simi Valley, California. Picture: AP

Meanwhile, in fire-stricken Southern California, more residents are being allowed back into their homes near Los Angeles after a blaze torched a massive area and destroyed more than 600 homes and other structures.

The blaze is now 70 per cent contained, authorities said. At least three deaths were reported.

 

DOZENS STILL IN HOSPITAL

Dozens of people remain in hospital a week after the deadly wildfire broke out.

UC Davis Medical Centre in Sacramento said it has treated 11 people injured following the widespread fires, which largely destroyed the town Paradise and killed dozens.

One person is in critical condition, another is in serious condition and eight more are in a fair condition.

The hospital's chief burn surgeon told KRON-TV that most patients had burns to over 20 to 50 per cent of their bodies.

A satellite image released on Thursday shows a short-wave infra-red image captured capturing the full extent of the actively burning area in Paradise, California. Picture: AP
A satellite image released on Thursday shows a short-wave infra-red image captured capturing the full extent of the actively burning area in Paradise, California. Picture: AP
An apartment complex on fire in Paradise, California. Picture: AP
An apartment complex on fire in Paradise, California. Picture: AP

Enloe Medical Center in Chico treated 49 patients who evacuated from a hospital in Paradise. Hospital spokeswoman Andrea Gleason said numerous others were admitted for fire-related injuries, but the staff hasn't kept track of the exact number of patients.

California officials say three firefighters were injured.

 

PRESIDENT LAYS BLAME

President Donald Trump has again blamed California's wildfires on mismanagement of forests, reiterating the criticism on the eve of a visit to the most devastated area of the state.

Fox News asked Trump if he thought climate change had contributed to California's wildfires. "Maybe it contributes a little bit," Mr Trump said. "The big problem we have is management."

It echoes his tweet a week ago, in which he threatened to withhold federal payments to California and claimed its forest management is "so poor."

Mr Trump is scheduled to visit the devastated Northern California town of Paradise on Saturday. A fire there has killed at least 63 people in the deadliest wildfire in a century.

 

Members of the California Army National Guard take a break at they search burned homes for human remains. Picture: AP
Members of the California Army National Guard take a break at they search burned homes for human remains. Picture: AP

Firefighters have mixed thoughts on Mr Trump's comments blaming raging wildfires on poor management but say their main focus is fighting the blaze.

As firefighters returned to a command centre in the Northern California city of Chico after 24-hour shifts, some learned for the first time that Trump was scheduled to visit tomorrow.

Firefighter Joshua Watson said he viewed the upcoming visit as a sign of support for firefighters, "no matter what you think about him."

Gary Jacobs, a firefighter sent from San Mateo county, said everybody has their own opinions and he stays out of politics.

While Michael Baldwin, a fire captain from Mendocino County, said Mr Trump's comments were "ill-informed" and came at the wrong time.

SMOKE BLOWS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

San Francisco International Airport confirmed that nearly 200 flights had been delayed because of low visibility and smoke.

Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said about 15 per cent, or 195 flights, have had delays averaging 45 minutes.

On Thursday, about 500 were delayed, representing 40 per cent of the airport's flights.

Yakel said smoke was the main factor in low visibility conditions, with visibility at about 2.4 kilometres on Friday compared to 16 kilometres on a normal day.

Schools across the San Francisco Bay Area were closed on Friday as winds carried smoke from wildfires in Northern California, blanketing towns and cities hundreds of kilometres away.

FIREFIGHTERS WINNING THE BATTLE

Officials say they have made good progress in battling the deadly blaze, which is now 45 per cent contained, up from 40 per cent on Thursday morning.

The department says the blaze has charred 575 square kilometres and destroyed 144 apartment buildings and 9700 homes.

More than 450 people are combing through debris in the search for human remains.

Forecasters are predicting rain early next week and wet weather could help firefighters extinguish the massive blaze earlier than expected.

- with wires


Cyclone could bring rain to southeast

Cyclone could bring rain to southeast

“It could potentially come back as Owen mark II."

Major brewer feels the sting of ring pull beer caps

Major brewer feels the sting of ring pull beer caps

There's a beer backlash brewing across Australia

Local Partners