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California fires have left 'toxic wasteland' with 82 dead, hundreds missing

By
Nicholas Sakelaris and Allen Cone
Search and rescue units look for remains in Paradise
Members of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue, rake through ruins in Paradise, Calif. on Saturday. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The California wildfires have now killed 82 people, but officials fear the toll could climb much higher -- with hundreds still missing.

Rain is in the forecast for Northern California on Tuesday and may last through the weekend, bringing a much needed reprieve for the 4,700 firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Butte County, north of San Francisco.

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On Monday night, the death toll in the Camp Fire rose to 79 -- with 64 identified -- as remains of two more individuals were located, according to the Butte County sheriff's department.

The fire has burned 151,000 acres, 11,713 homes, 472 commercial buildings and 3,388 other buildings, Cal Fire said Monday night. It's about 70 percent contained. The number of missing was listed at 699 on Monday night, a decrease of 294 from the previous day, according to the sheriff's office.

RELATED Trump surveys Camp Fire damage as deaths rise to 76; missing tops 1,000

Volunteers in white coveralls went house-to-house Sunday looking for human remains in the charred houses in Chico. When no remains were found, they marked the locations with a spray-painted orange "O" and moved on. Authorities are asking the public to for notification if someone on the list is found alive.

The rains could be a mixed blessing, as they would help extinguish the Camp Fire that's burned since Nov. 8, but would also turn the ashen ground to a sloppy mess. The storms could bring stronger winds, too.

"As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said, adding that officials may never know the exact death toll.

RELATED Death toll from California wildfires rises to 59 as crews gain control

President Donald Trump visited fire-ravaged Paradise over the weekend to view the aftermath first hand.

"We've never seen anything like this in California; we've never seen anything like this yet. It's total devastation," he said.

Last week, Trump criticized forest management practices in California and threatened to cut federal aid to the state. He's since backed off that stance.

RELATED Smoke from California fires shuts down schools; death toll reaches 59

"He's got our back," Gov. Jerry Brown told CBS' Face the Nation Sunday. "There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president. But in the face of tragedy, people tend to rise above some of the lesser propensities. So I think we're on a good path."

Paradise is among the hardest-hit cities.

"Our entire five-member council is homeless," Paradise town councilor Melissa Schuster told ABC News. "All of our houses have been destroyed. The entire community of Paradise is a toxic wasteland right now."

There's also been an outbreak of the norovirus at the shelter in Butte County, county health spokesman Lisa Almaguer said.

Trump also visited Malibu in Southern California, which was hit hard by the Woolsey Fire. It is 96 percent contained after burning 97,000 acres, Cal Fire said Monday night. It's responsible for three.

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