Northern California wildfire death toll rises to 56 as the search for the missing continues

Key Points
  • Authorities reported eight more fatalities from Northern California's massive wildfire blaze north of Sacramento, bringing the total number of dead so far to 56.
  • Authorities said Wednesday that 130 people were still unaccounted for.
  • Officials say there's also been an outbreak of norovirus at the shelter housing people who evacuated their homes to escape the blaze.

Authorities on Wednesday reported eight more fatalities from Northern California's catastrophic wildfire north of Sacramento, bringing the total number of dead so far to 56. They also ramped up the search for more victims and said that 130 people were still unaccounted for.

Also, officials said there has been an outbreak of norovirus at a shelter housing people who evacuated their homes to escape the so-called Camp Fire, which is the deadliest in a century. It destroyed most of the town of Paradise, California, as well as parts of other communities including Magalia.

Archaeology students from the University of Nevada, Reno's Human Identification Laboratory, help search for victims of the Camp Fire with a county law enforcement officer on Sunday, November 11, 2018, in a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif. 
Carl Mondon | The Mercury News via Getty Images | Digital First Media | Getty Images

Butte County public health spokeswoman Lisa Almagauer said the lab tests confirmed the virus. She added that those who were sick have been quarantined at a shelter in Chico, California.

The health official did not know the number of people who had contacted the virus.

The Camp Fire has charred an estimated 138,000 acres and was listed as 35 percent contained on Wednesday evening. More than 5,000 firefighters are assigned to the massive blaze, which is about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

California Gov. Jerry Brown joined U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long on Wednesday in touring the devastation in Paradise. Among the locations they visited was a burned-out elementary school.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, second from left, looks at a students work book displayed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that was found during a tour of the fire ravaged Paradise Elementary School Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli | AP

"This is so devastating that I don't really have the words to describe it," Brown said. "It looks like a war zone."

The California governor also said President Donald Trump called him Wednesday and "pledged the full resources of the federal government. And I can tell you that California stands in the same position."

More than 1,000 people were at shelters set up for evacuees as of Wednesday. Evacuations remain in place for Paradise as well as Butte Valley, Magalia, Concow and several other Butte County communities.

About 100 members of the California Army National Guard are helping to search for the dead. The search was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone's genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

"In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it's just such a lengthy process," says Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners' office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11 and is exploring how it might use a rapid DNA device.

The Camp Fire is believed to be the nation's deadliest wildfire since 1918, when a wildfire in northern Minnesota killed an estimated 1,000 people, according to Stephen Pyne, an Arizona State University professor.

A local resident speaks with firefighters stationed along Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) to battle the Woolsey Fire on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California. 
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed three people and destroyed well over 480 structures in Southern California. The so-called Woolsey Fire has burned more than 98,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

A third death was reported in the Woolsey Fire on Wednesday when authorities found human remains in a burned-out home in Agoura. The two other fatalities in the fire were in Malibu.

The Woolsey Fire was listed as 52 percent contained as of Wednesday evening. Cal Fire estimates it will have full containment of the fire on Monday.

A firefighter walks by the a burning home in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. 
Ringo H.W. Chiu | AP

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.

People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric this week, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire.

PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado said in an email Wednesday that the San Francisco-based utility is aware of the lawsuits in connection with the Camp Fire and added, "It's important to remember that the cause has yet to be determined."

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.