Death toll rises to 76 in California fire as Trump visits
Chico, Calif. – Nearly 1,300 people remain unaccounted for and the death toll from the country’s deadliest wildfire in a century climbed to 76, authorities said Saturday, hours after President Donald Trump surveyed what remained of a decimated Northern California community.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded with fire evacuees to check the roster of people reported as unreachable by family and friends and to call in if they are safe. Deputies have located hundreds of people to date, but the overall number keeps growing because officials are adding names, including those reported as missing during the disaster’s chaotic early hours, Honea said.
“It’s really very important for you to take a look at the list and call us if you’re on the list,” he said.
The remains of five more people were found Saturday, including four in the decimated town of Paradise and one in nearby Concow, bringing the number of dead to 76.
Honea said among the dead was Lolene Rios, 56, whose son Jed tearfully told KXTV in Sacramento that his mother “had endless amount of love for me.”
Trump toured the area Saturday, joined by California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp barbs with the Republican administration. He also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.
The president pledged the full support of the federal government. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov-elect Gavin Newsom thanked him for coming out.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in California, we’ve never seen anything like this yet. It’s like total devastation,” Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise.
Firefighters are racing to get ahead of strong winds and low humidity expected overnight and into Sunday afternoon. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the search for remains.
Northern California’s Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and torched 233 square miles. It is 55 percent contained.
The fire zone in Northern California is to some extent Trump country, and that enthusiasm was on display as dozens of people cheered and waved flags as his motorcade went by.
Kevin Cory, a wildfire evacuee who lost his home in Paradise, praised Trump for coming to a state that is often at odds with the White House.
“I think that California’s been really horrible to him and the fights. I mean they’re suing him,” he said. “It’s back and forth between the state and the feds. It’s not right.”
But for the most part, survivors, some who had barely escaped and no longer had homes, were too busy packing up what little they had left or seeking help to pay much attention to the president’s visit.
Michelle Mack Couch, 49, waited in line to get into a Federal Emergency Management Agency center in the city of Chico. She needed a walker for her elderly mother and tags for her car.
“Let’s hope he gets us some help,” said Couch, who voted for Trump and whose house was among those burned down last week.
But as far as taking time out to watch the president, she said wryly, “We don’t have a TV anymore.”
At an unofficial encampment next to a Walmart store in Chico, many were packing up to find another temporary place to sleep after being told to leave by Sunday.
That included Maggie Missere-Crowder, who said she was focused on getting her tent and boxes of food into her pickup truck.
Missere-Crowder, 61, and her husband had fled their home in Magalia, a community near Paradise that also was devastated, and now planned to go to a shelter in Yuba City, about an hour’s drive from the Walmart.
She said she was angry about Trump’s tweet last week blaming forest mismanagement for the Nov. 8 fire, a sentiment he evoked in his visit that has stirred resentment among survivors.
“Like we’ve done it on purpose. It’s like a slap in the face,” Missere-Crowder said.
In Southern California, Trump also met briefly at an airport hangar with families and first responders touched by the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks more than a week ago.
Trump called the shooting at a country music bar, which left 12 dead, “a horrible, horrible event.”