A hand crew works a fire break as they establish a hose line along a ridge during the El Dorado Fire along Highway 38 west of Forest Falls, Calif., Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2020, as a hand crew establishes a hose line along a ridge. The fire was started by a device at a gender reveal party Sat., Sept. 5. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

A hand crew works a fire break as they establish a hose line along a ridge during the El Dorado Fire along Highway 38 west of Forest Falls, Calif., Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2020, as a hand crew establishes a hose line along a ridge. The fire was started by a device at a gender reveal party Sat., Sept. 5. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

10 dead as California fire becomes deadliest of year

29 major wildfires burning from Oregon border to just north of Mexico

GRIDLEY, Calif. — A Northern California wildfire that destroyed a foothill hamlet has become the state’s deadliest blaze of the year with 10 people confirmed dead — and the toll could climb as searchers look for 16 missing people.

The North Complex fire that exploded in wind-driven flames earlier in the week was advancing more slowly Friday after the winds eased and smoke from the blaze shaded the area and lowered the temperature, allowing firefighters to make progress, authorities said.

However, the smoke made for poor visibility and fire helicopters couldn’t fly Thursday.

In most parts of the state, red flag warnings of extreme fire danger because of hot, dry weather or gusty winds were lifted.

Only a day or two earlier, the North Complex fire tore through Sierra Nevada foothills so quickly that fire crews were nearly engulfed, locals fled for their lives to a pond, and the town of Berry Creek, population 525, was gutted.

On Thursday, Butte County sheriff’s Capt. Derek Bell said seven bodies were discovered, bringing the total to 10 in two days. At least four people with critical burns were hospitalized.

Deputies and detectives were searching for human remains as they made their way into devastated areas with a team of anthropologists from Chico State University, Bell said.

Burned-out and overturned cars, downed power lines and the ruins of buildings littered Berry Creek and nearby areas, the Sacramento Bee reported. One hatchback found on a dirt road had three dead dogs in it, while a pickup truck had the remnants of a guitar case and melted CDs in the bed.

More than 2,000 homes and other buildings had burned in the fire, which began several weeks ago as a lightning-sparked collection of blazes northeast of San Francisco. The final toll is expected to be much higher. Damage assessment teams planned to begin a methodical search of the burned areas on Friday.

Among those unaccounted for were Sandy Butler and her husband, who had called their son to say they were going to try to escape the flames by finding shelter in a pond.

“We’re still hoping and praying for good news,” said Jessica Fallon, who has two children with the Butler’s grandson and considers them her own grandparents. “Everything is replaceable, but not my grandparents’ lives. I’d rather lose everything than those two. They kind of held the family together.”

Fallon said she’d been peppering hospitals with phone calls in search of her grandparents. There was no word of them late Thursday night.

The speed and ferocity of the fire astonished observers, even those who remembered a blaze only two years earlier that killed some 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise, a few miles away from the current blaze.

Residents jammed the main road out of town on Wednesday amid falling ash and red skies. Authorities lifted an evacuation warning for Paradise on Thursday but authorities urged people to remain alert.

A crew fighting the fire was overrun by flames Wednesday when winds shifted and its members escaped with only minor injuries after deploying emergency shelters. It was the second time in two days that firefighters in California had to take the rare last-ditch effort to save their lives.

The blaze is among 29 major wildfires burning from the Oregon border to just north of Mexico. More than 4,800 square miles (12,500 square kilometres) have burned so far this year — more land than Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington, D.C., combined — and fall is typically the worst season for fires. Nineteen people have been killed and at least 4,000 structures have burned across California.

“It’s a historic season on top of a historic season that replaced a historic season. We just keep setting new precedents, and then we keep destroying them,” said Sean Norman, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Smoke blew into vineyards in wine country north of San Francisco, and rose above scenic Big Sur on the Central Coast and in the foothills and mountains of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties in the southern part of the state.

President Donald Trump spoke with Gov. Gavin Newsom “to express his condolences for the loss of life and reiterate the administration’s full support to help those on the front lines of the fires,” according to White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Neighbouring Oregon and Washington also have been beseiged.

More than 1,400 square miles (3,625 square kilometres) have burned this week in Oregon, where hot, windy conditions continued. Authorities said more than 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.

Wildfires have scorched nearly 937 square miles (2,426 kilometres) in Washington.

By The Associated Press

Californiawildfire

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Blank Unemployment Benefits form
Red Deer unemployment rate rises to 10.6 per cent

Red Deer’s unemployment rate rose slightly during the month of April. The… Continue reading

Red Deer teacher Jeremey Spink has been nominated as the NHL/NHLPA Most Valuable Teacher. He is one of 20 teachers in the running across North America for the award in February. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Last day to vote for Red Deer Teacher as NHL Most Valuable Teacher

Eastview Middle School teacher Jeremy Spink is one of three teachers in the running for the award

Starting Monday, golf courses across the province will be limited to their household or for those who live alone, their two close contacts. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Golf in Alberta limited to household or close contacts starting Monday

Golf courses will have new COVID-19 protocols to follow next week. Starting… Continue reading

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
MLA Ron Orr pleads with Central Albertans to follow COVID-19 rules

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr is changing his tune on COVID-19. Orr originally… Continue reading

People line up at a COVID-19 vaccination centre, Friday, April 23, 2021 in Deux-Montagnes, Que. Canada's two biggest provinces are continuing to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations as they report lower hospitalization figures.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
COVID-19 rapid tests going to more businesses, Alberta truckers get shots in Montana

Ottawa has introduced new ways for small and medium businesses to get… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

Rona Ambrose is shown during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Thursday, May 18, 2017. New judges will have to commit to take training in sexual assault law, thanks to a new law that received royal assent last night. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Judges’ sexual assault training bill receives royal assent after clearing the Senate

OTTAWA, Ohio — New judges will have to commit to take training… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks to a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. A broad coalition of MPs from all five parties wants the federal government to support waiving the global rules that guard vaccine trade secrets. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
As MPs urge support, Trudeau demurs on whether government backs COVID-19 waiver

WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau stopped well short Friday of endorsing efforts to… Continue reading

Workers perform ground preparations outside City Hall in Yellowknife on Monday, July 4, 2011. A recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Yellowknife is mostly affecting children and youth, the territory’s chief public health officer says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most of Yellowknife’s COVID-19 cases are in children and youth: public health officer

YELLOWKNIFE — A health official in the Northwest Territories says a recent… Continue reading

Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
A year after jobs data leak, StatCan resumes sharing advance numbers with officials

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada has resumed its practice of giving key federal… Continue reading

jobs - T - 3-6-2020
Job search: 10 ways to make your LinkedIn profile stand out in 2021

In 2021 successful job hunting requires having a LinkedIn profile that’s current… Continue reading

Max Parrot of Canada competes in the men’s snowboard big air final at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. Parrot has won the Comeback of the Year honour at the Laureus World Sports Awards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canadian snowboarder Max Parrot wins Laureus World Sports Award for comeback

Parrot beat out former Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith

This Nov. 22, 2015 file photo shows Justin Bieber at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Bieber’s world tour is facing another setback as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop singer is pushing dozens of tour dates including stops in three Canadian cities.	THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
Justin Bieber postpones Canadian summer tour dates until 2022

52-date world tour will now kick off Feb. 18, 2022

Most Read