The number of victims rises to 71 in fires in California while relatives seek the missing


The messages are displayed in front of a church in Chico, California, while displaced, family members and friends are looking for people who lack the impact of northern California. Northern California officials have struggled to gain control over the number of missing from the wildest blazes in at least a century in the United States. (Gillian Flaccus / AP)

In the midst of a penetrating mist, the disabled retired Michael French walked confidently into a parking lot to subject a DNA sample to California authorities who hopes to help him locate his missing nephew.

The 62-year-old Frenchman has said that he and other relatives have been looking for Wendy since a rapid fire – the most destructive of California's history – has invested 11,000 homes and buildings in Paradise and in the neighboring communities at the top of the mountain on November 8 , leaving at least 71 dead.

"No one has ever heard from you, you have not made contact with us, so I am deeply worried," said the Frenchman. The family takes the worst.

While firefighters fight to contain the deadly campfire, the authorities are stepping up efforts to identify the lost and dead. Volunteer teams in white protective suits searched for blackened ground and family members arrived at makeshift DNA centers, where their mouths were buffered to help identify the victims' remains. The remains of at least 13 victims have not been identified, said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

The list of unaccounted for people exceeded 1,000 on Friday after the authorities released more than 600 names in an effort to identify those who had been found by friends and relatives. The astonishing tally raised fears that the death toll would increase exponentially.

The long list has confused even President Trump, who said on Friday that "as many as 600" people could be lost in the flames.

"Burned beyond recognition, they can not even see the bodies, it's incredible," said Trump, who is planning to visit the area on Saturday, a an interview with the "Fox News Sunday" Chris Wallace.

But since the names of the disappeared have expanded into the quadruple figures, Honea cautioned that it is possible that many of those listed are safe, but have not called the authorities to confirm. Some names in the list could be duplicated with different spellings, he added.

"We have a significant event, an unprecedented event, in which a large number of people have been moved and dispersed throughout northern California," he said, explaining why it was difficult to confirm the lack in the list of expanding names. .

Among those who had been found but were still listed as missing was the mother of Suzanne Heffernan, Shirley Woodhouse. Heffernan had talked to his parents as they evacuated their home in Paradise a week ago, and she and her four brothers had been in close contact with the welfare of their parents ever since.

So Heffernan was surprised to receive a phone call from a local sheriff on Thursday telling her that her mother, who is 80 years old, was on the list of missing persons. One of Woodhouse's high school friends had added.

It's interesting, he said, "if strangers and unfamiliar members are adding people to the missing list."

Authorities and residents of Paradise – a community of 26,000 inhabitants nestled in the hills of the Sierra Nevada – said that the number of victims will probably increase in this city where many have retired to escape the bustle of the city, although it is unclear how much in high. Among the residents there are many elderly or infirm who might not have managed to escape while the flames were approaching.

Honea said that it is "certainly within the realm of possibilities that we will never know" the exact number of people killed in the stake.

"I sincerely hope to identify all those that are missing and identify the remains," he added. "But this is the nature of this tragedy … This is a massive and massive undertaking."

Despite the days of searching the burned area with the largest search and rescue team in the history of the state, the authorities said they had just scratched the surface of the area that could contain human remains.

This could mean a long wait for friends and relatives of the missing.

Friday would have been Dorothy Lee Mack's 88th birthday, and her sister-in-law had never heard of her since the fire hit the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, where Mack lived at number 19.

Mack is not one who surrenders easily, said his sister-in-law, Marian Mack. He survived the polio when he was 10 years old and later a cancer attack and two hip replacements. But Marian did not know if Dorothy would hear the emergency officials who had rushed into the mobile homes around 6:30 in the morning, ringing bells to wake their sleeping occupants.

"It was a terrible time," said Marian Mack, who sometimes visited Dorothy's birthday. "We just have to wait and pray."

Field fire consumed more than 140,000 acres – an area of ​​the size of Chicago – and is contained at 50 percent. But more fires continue to rage across the state. In Southern California, Woolsey Fire crossed an area from the Simi Valley to the multimillion-dollar beach houses of Malibu. At least three people were killed in that fire.

More than 9,000 firefighters are working to contain Camp and Woolsey fires with tankers and helicopters, which have destroyed more than 12,000 facilities, according to Cal Fire.

The National Meteorological Service issued a red flag warning in the Camp Fire region for Saturday night to Sunday, which means strong winds could cause a rapid spread of flames. Authorities are adding fire brigades to help prevent the growth of fire.

They are also expanding their efforts to identify human remains by posting "Rapid DNA" machines near fire scenes. The technology allows relatives to provide their genetic material through a cheek pad and compare it to a database of unidentified victims in less than two hours.

The machines, the size of a mini-fridge, are part of a new initiative that is launched by the forces of order after receiving congressional approval last year. The FBI hopes to launch a police pilot program to test suspects at booking stations and forward the results to state crime laboratories and the national DNA database at the start of next year, he said l & # 39; agency.

ANDE, a Waltham, Mass., Company, is one of two companies approved to provide machines for rapid analysis to the government, and has sent six of them to various fire command posts on Wednesday, the chief said of the Annette Mattern communication. The DNA samples collected there will only be used to identify the victims, he said, and those machines are not connected to the national DNA database.

The authorities hope to encourage more relatives of the missing to use them. Only 17 DNA samples were processed, they said.

Last Friday, displaced residents who camped at a Walmart parking lot in Chico visited an abandoned Sears store, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency had set up services.

Jeff Hansen, 37, waited several hours to request emergency assistance for his nine-member family, including a 36-year-old brother with a wheelchair-using cerebral palsy. He lost his home in Paradise, his workplace and one of his three machines in the fire.

"We hope that FEMA will help us," said Hansen.

The center also became a place for impromptu meetings, while displaced people came across friends and neighbors who feared they had died in the fire.

Lindsay Nelson, 37, has been worried for days about what happened to her 78-year-old drinking buddy, "Jay Jay." But when he saw him in the middle, Nelson hugged him and took a photograph to be published on Facebook.

"Nobody had heard from him, we thought he was gone, so I'm glad to see him and I know he's fine," said Nelson, who had lived in Paradise but had lost the house he was renting there. "This is such a relief, I do not want to hear any of my friends do not make it, it would be too difficult with all the rest."

But with the death toll set to rise, Nelson is still vigorous for the worst.

"The fact is that everyone knows that they will know someone who has not done it," he said. "The fact is that we will need to build a memorial in Paradise."

Annie Gowen and Frances Sellers reported from Washington. Tom Jackman and Julie Tate contributed to this report from Washington.

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