US President Donald Trump will visit Northern Califrnia on Saturday to meet the victims and witness the devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century.
Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and say they are trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.
California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president Saturday. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it’s time “to pull together for the people of California.”
The blaze that started on November 8 all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.
Trump had faced severe backlash for threatening to withhold federal funds from California.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted while he was in Paris. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 square kilometers) and was 50 percent contained officials said.
Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50 mph and low humidity. Rain was forecast for mid-week, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.
“It’s a disheartening situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference Friday. “As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible.”
The number of people unaccounted for grew to more than 1,000 on Friday. But Honea acknowledged the list was “dynamic” and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names.
The roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they’ve been reported missing, he said.
“We are still receiving calls. We’re still reviewing emails,” Honea said. “This is a massive undertaking. We have hundreds and hundreds of people working on this.”