The number of people listed as missing in one of California's deadliest wildfire has skyrocketed past 600, authorities said on Thursday as the remains of seven additional victims were found by rescuers.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the number of missing had more than doubled during the day to 631 as investigators went back and checked emergency calls made when the fire broke out a week ago.
I want you to understand that the chaos we were dealing with was extraordinary when the fire started, he told journalists, in explaining the staggering new number.
The seven additional victims brings to 66 the number of people who have died in the so-called Camp Fire in northern California.
At least three other people have died in southern California in another blaze dubbed the Woolsey Fire.
President Donald Trump is set to visit California on Saturday to meet with victims of the wildfires believed to be the worst in the state's history.
Authorities say cooler temperatures are helping crews gain ground as they fight the deadly Camp Fire, which is now 40% contained. The deadliest blaze in the state's history has spanned nearly 570 square kilometers.
In Paradise, a town virtually wiped out last week soon after the fire started, hundreds of people, along with cadaver dogs, were searching for bodies amid the ashes. Officials said they hoped a Rapid DNA analysis technique would help speed the identification of victims and notification of their families.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, visited the area. Brown blamed climate change and drought for the massive blaze, while Zinke cautioned against assigning blame to any one factor.
Now is not the time to point fingers, he said, saying dead trees, higher temperatures and poor forest management were among the causes. Long said it would take years for residents of Paradise to rebuild, if they choose to do so.
Wildfires are common in California, particularly at this time of year when warm, dry winds help fan the flames. Close to 8,800 homes have been destroyed in Northern California.