More than 600 people listed as missing in California fires

While the death toll rose to at least 63 from the Northern California wildfire, officials say more than 600 are still missing.

The missing persons list consists of 631 names after the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Thursday that the high number of missing people probably included some who fled the blaze and didn’t realise they had been reported missing.

Authorities were making the list public so people could see if they were on it and let authorities know they were safe, Honea said.

More than 600 people are listed as missing following the devastating California wildfires. Source: AP

“The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary,” he said of the early crisis hours last week.

“Now we’re trying to go back out and make sure that we’re accounting for everyone.”

Evacuation process questioned

Honea released the list as others questioned the chaotic evacuations of November 8.

Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock.

That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.

But Paradise’s carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus last week.

Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.

Now authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.

The wildfire has been nation’s deadliest in a century.Source: AP

Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn’t receive warnings because cellphones weren’t working.

She also lost electrical power.

Just over an hour after the first evacuation order was issued at 8am, she said, neighbours came to her door to say: “You have to get out of here.”

In the aftermath of the disaster, survivors said authorities need to devise a plan to reach residents who can’t get a cellphone signal in the hilly terrain or don’t have cellphones at all.

In his defense, Honea said evacuation orders were issued through 5227 emails, 25,643 phone calls and 5445 texts, in addition to social media and the use of loudspeakers.

As cellphone service went down, authorities went into neighbourhoods with bullhorns to tell people to leave, and that effort saved lives.

Honea said he was too busy with the emergency and the recovery of human remains to analyse how the evacuation went.

But he said it was a big, chaotic, fast-moving situation, and there weren’t enough law enforcement officers to go out and warn everyone.

“The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people,” the sheriff said.