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Camp Fire survivor dies after 9 months in hospital, pushes toll to 86

By Clyde Hughes
The Camp Fire burns a neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on November 8, 2018. The fire was the deadliest in state history, having killed 86 people. File Photo by Peter DaSilva/EPA-EFE
The Camp Fire burns a neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on November 8, 2018. The fire was the deadliest in state history, having killed 86 people. File Photo by Peter DaSilva/EPA-EFE

Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The deadliest wildfire in California history has claimed an 86th victim -- nine months after the last flames were extinguished.

Officials said Paul Ernest, who'd been hospitalized since last fall, died Monday after months-long treatments for severe burns and respiratory infections. He required help breathing for the last month because he'd contracted pneumonia, his family said.

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Ernest, 72, and his wife Suzie survived the Camp Fire by hiding behind a boulder as the fire destroyed their home in Paradise, about 145 miles northeast of San Francisco. Son Jessee Ernest said his father shielded his wife as they waited for the flames to pass.

"He's a hero," he said. "He saved my mom's life -- and almost his own."

Suzie, 67, was also hospitalized for several months. Paul had been in a long-term rehabilitation facility in West Sacramento.

The Camp Fire was the deadliest in California's history. It destroyed 153,000 acres and nearly 19,000 structures last November. State authorities said in May the blaze was started by malfunctioning power lines. The utility owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, filed for bankruptcy in January and had been on criminal probation for a 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno.

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