Northern California’s deadly Camp fire has left dozens of people anxiously waiting to hear from loved ones who are still missing four days into the disaster, as fires continue to ravage the Golden State.
“It’s been days; nobody has heard anything,” Megan Janes told HuffPost on Monday, referring to her missing uncle Randy Dodge, 56, and his wife Paula, who lived in Paradise, California ― a rural town about an hour and a half north of Sacramento that has been devastated by the fire.
“My hope is someone caught a glimpse of them,” Janes said of her aunt and uncle. “We just need peace, we just want to know. It’s very difficult right now.”
At least 42 people were dead in the Camp fire, which tore through Paradise and surrounding areas, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters Monday night. The fire is now officially the deadliest single fire in state history.
The sheriff’s office did not have an update on the number of missing persons, last reported as 228 on Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, in Southern California’s Ventura County, two people have died in the Woolsey fire that has spurred mass evacuations from Malibu and other areas. As of Monday, there were no reports of any missing people from that blaze, per the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
The Camp fire has destroyed more than 7,000 structures, Cal Fire officials said Monday evening, making it the most destructive fire in California’s recorded history.
Cal Fire public information officer Scott McLean expects the death toll to rise in the coming days, as firefighters continue to comb affected areas and find the bodies of those who didn’t make it out.
Honea said officials were planning to bring in “human remains” or “cadaver” dogs to find bodies, as well as a “rapid DNA system” to identify them.
The high number of missing people in the Camp fire does not necessarily mean they are all fatalities, McLean said. Paradise was a rural town with a large retirement community of older residents ― not everyone had cell phones and computers, he noted. And cell towers are still down.
It’s an “ongoing process” to find those that are still alive, McLean noted. As people rush to evacuate, some may take hours or even days to reach all those concerned with updates on their whereabouts. Some people have gone to stay with friends nearby, others to hotels, and others to neighboring Nevada to “just to get their head back on,” McLean said.
“The fire spread the length of a football field in the matter of a second or two,” he added.
As of Monday, the Camp fire was only 30 percent contained and the Woolsey fire was only 20 percent contained and had spurred mandatory evacuations for the entire city of Malibu and other nearby communities.
For those whose loved ones are still missing, law enforcement has been referring people to the Red Cross’ Safe and Well website ― a free tool for individuals to post messages saying they are safe or to search for names. Since the start of the fires, about 970 matches have been made through the site, the organization said.
Cal Fire also lists phone numbers for “missing persons call centers” on its incident notice.
Many have been posting on social media in hopes of locating victims. Actor James Woods has been reposting people’s tweets about missing family members to help spread the word and help them find each other.
Janes said that “complete strangers” have been helping by retweeting her posts about her missing uncle and aunt, something that’s been “really touching.”
“The most we can do is just be there for each other,” Janes said. “Maybe I can help someone else find their family while they’re trying to help find mine.”
“Keep sharing, keep loving, keep trying,” she added. “I’m not willing to give up yet.”