California wildfire death toll reaches 71 as number missing rises to 1000

Our Foreign Staff
In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California - AFP

The death toll in California's wildfires climbed to 71 on Friday as the number of missing people surpassed 1000, while authorities continued the search for survivors and victims.

However, Kory Honea, Butte sheriff, said the list of missing people was dynamic, and could contain the names of people who did not realise they had been reported missing.

"We are still receiving calls, we're still reviewing emails," he said.

President Donald Trump is expected to visit the area on Saturday to see for himself the grief and damage caused by California's most deadly wildfires.

But he may face anger from locals for comments suggesting the fires could have been prevented or contained with better forest management.

In an interview recorded on Friday and scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Mr Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire. "This should have been all raked out," he said.

Meanwhile, deputies found eight more bodies on Friday, bringing the death toll to 71.

Authorities are trying to reassure an anxious public that the long list of missing names - jumping from 600 a day earlier - may simply reflect the difficulty in trying to account for everyone thought to be in the area.

Some on the list have been confirmed as dead by family and friends on social media. Others have been located and are safe, but authorities have not yet marked them as found.

An exhausted llama lays in a partially burned field in Paradise, California  Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP

Tamara Conry said she should never have been on the list.

"My husband and I are not missing and never were," she wrote Thursday night on Facebook. "We have no family looking for us. ... I called and left a message to take our names off."

Authorities compiled the list by going back to listen to all the dispatch calls they received since the fire started, to make sure they didn't miss anyone.

In last year's catastrophic wildfires in California wine country, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing. But they slowly whittled down the number. In the end, 44 people died in several counties.

Firefighters search a burned-out building in Paradise, California Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomber

The wildfire this time all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow on November 8, destroying 9,700 houses and 144 apartment buildings, authorities said.

Firefighters were gaining ground against the blaze, which blackened 222 square miles (575 square kilometers). It was 45 percent contained and posed no immediate threat to populated areas. Crews managed to stop it from spreading toward Oroville, population 19,000.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country. The the Republican candidate beat Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But some survivors resent that Mr Trump took to Twitter two days after the disaster to blame the wildfires on poor forest mismanagement. He threatened to withhold federal payments from California.

"If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you're going to be accepted? You're not going to have a parade," Maggie Crowder of Magalia said Thursday outside an informal shelter at a Walmart parking lot in Chico.