16 Nov 2018

California fires: Number of missing people leaps to 631

6:05 pm on 16 November 2018

The death toll from California's deadly fires has risen to 63 and the number of missing has dramatically doubled to 631

A burnt out truck is seen in Paradise, California after the Camp fire tore through the area.

A burnt out truck is seen in Paradise, California after the Camp fire tore through the area. Photo: AFP

The Camp Fire erupted a week ago and raged through the mountain town of Paradise to the north of Sacramento.

The town of 27,000 residents has been completely destroyed and all that is left is an expanse of smouldering ruins, twisted wreckage and debris.

The missing persons' list has doubled since earlier today. Nearly 12,000 buildings have been destroyed.

Authorities attributed the high death toll in part to the staggering speed with which the wind-driven flames tore through, fuelled by desiccated scrub and trees.

In announcing the revised death and missing toll, the Sheriff and Coroner of Butte County asked relatives to submit DNA samples to speed up the identification of the victims.

The fire is now 40 percent contained but 50,000 people remain under evacuation orders.

Some Paradise residents have filed a lawsuit accusing the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of causing the massive blaze by failing to maintain its infrastructure and properly inspect its power transmission lines.

Two electric utilities have said they experienced equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

The Camp Fire coincided with a flurry of smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which has killed three people and destroyed at least 500 structures near Malibu, west of Los Angeles.

The US President Donald Trump is due to visit fire-affected parts of the state at the weekend where he's likely to get a frosty reception.

His response to the fires so far has been criticised as unsympathetic and ill-informed.

Earlier this week he tweeted: "With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!"

He has previously blamed Californian officials for wildfires and threatened to withhold federal funding.

- BBC/Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs