The communities surrounding wildfire-ravaged Paradise, California are starting to hold vigils as the number of deaths and unaccounted people from the Camp Fire continues to rise. In just a week, the number of the unaccounted jumped from some 100 to briefly more than a thousand.
Officials knew the count was likely to rise in the days following the wildfires — partially due to frantic evacuations.
"In addition to taking information from people who called in, the call takers are adding that information in, but now we are going back through all of the records," said Kory Honea, Butte County Sheriff and Coroner "CAD, RMS records, dispatch records that were generated during the most intense portions of this event. When people were calling 911, and we were logging that information in there. We’ve gone in and mined all that data and are now collecting it."
Every evening, Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea gives new numbers for how many remains were recovered that day, and updates the unaccounted. He starts with a disclaimer:
“The information I am providing you is the best information that I have at this point that this is an ongoing situation and new information and facts come in regularly, so the information I provide now is subject to change,” he says.
The numbers fluctuate for several reasons. For one, there could be duplicate names. Cal Fire also told Newsy people had to evacuate at a moment's notice and may not have been able to grab their phones. Many evacuees were also elderly and might not have cell phones, so officials would have to physically find them at shelters. Officials hope they find those people at shelters, but it’s possible there are more people in the ashes than originally thought.
More than 400 searchers — including local residents whose own homes have burned down — have been combing through rubble. They’re given the names and addresses of the unaccounted, and with the help of cadaver dogs, search for bone fragments that can be tested.
Now, responders face the possibility of rain — which would be good news for fires, but could complicate search efforts.
Additional reporting by Newsy affiliate, CNN.