Donald Trump will visit California Saturday for the second time in his presidential tenure to meet first responders and bear witness to the deadliest wildfire in state history — a blaze that has claimed 71 lives, with more victims likely.
Eight more deceased were found Friday on hillsides scorched by the 10-day old Camp Fire, which still burns above Lake Oroville. Seven were found in Paradise and one in Magalia, officials said. All were found inside burned buildings.
More than 1,000 people remain listed as missing.
Should Trump’s visit take him into Paradise, he will have a ghastly view of miles of smoldering ruins, where 27,000 people once lived, but where no more than 20 percent of the town’s residences still stand, according to town mayor Jody Jones.
Trump will be accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, but details of the president’s trip have not been announced.
To date, California officials have counted 9,700 residences destroyed along with 336 commercial buildings and 2,076 other buildings. The fire was reported 50 percent contained Friday night.
Nearly 500 searchers continued to comb the burned ruins of Paradise, Magalia and other rural communities in a laborious effort to sift out the remains of the dead by hand, aided by search dogs. Crews were taking drone photographs to assist in the hunt.
The county sheriff has compiled a list of 1,011 names of people reported missing in the days since the fire raced through, 300 more than the day before. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea warned, however, that the list is just “raw data” that probably carries duplicated names, and various spellings of people’s names. In similar situations during other recent wildfires, the missing lists dwindled notably as relatives reconnected.
“I don’t want people to make assumptions,” Honea said. “I don’t think it is appropriate for me to speculate on the ultimate gravity of it.”
He acknowledged, given the extreme circumstances of the fire, it is possible that not all remains will be recovered.
The names of two victims were released Friday night, Paula Dodge, 70, and Randall Dodge, 67, of Paradise.
The pair was intelligent and were skilled card players, Randy Dodge’s brother Dan Dodge told The Bee. Dodge said his sister-in-law was an outgoing woman who loved to cook.
“Her counter had every gadget there is,” he said.
“Randy” served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, and worked repairman jobs since. His brother described him as a tremendous athlete with an easy going style.
“His persona was much like that of ‘the Fonz’ in Happy Days,” he said.
The Dodge family is deeply religious, its faith shaped over the years by personal tragedy, he said. Dan and Randy’s younger brother David Dodge died as a young adult of leukemia.
“We believe that both David and Randy are communing together now,” Dan Dodge said. “We kind of say he went from Paradise to paradise.”
In recent weeks, Trump has offered multiple opinions via Twitter and inteviews on California’s wildfires. He recently expressed support of recovery efforts, but angered California firefighters days earlier with a tweet about forest management, and has indicated he may again assert that California is doing a poor job of thinning forests to reduce risk. Combined with ongoing contentious exchanges with Brown, the tone of Saturday’s visit is uncertain.
Trump’s visit, however, may not be the most tempestuous of the weekend. Red flag fire-risk warnings will be out starting late Saturday night through Sunday morning, when the area will be revisited by winds with 50 mile per hour gusts. The winds are not expected to be “as extensive” as those that fueled the fire’s initial rage last week, weather service officials said.
Rain is expected sometime Wednesday through Friday, bringing as much as an inch and offering relief from the dry conditions, and an assist to firefighters, but likely will make the search for victims more difficult.
Officials are also struggling with another growing crisis: How to help the living, many of whom are now homeless.
The situation is growing worse with each passing day.
“This is on an order of magnitude beyond what we thought was one of the worst disaster recoveries we would be faced with,” said Kelly Huston, deputy director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
After the Camp Fire erased most of the town of Paradise, destroying more than 9,800 residences, emergency services officials are dealing with what some say is an escalating humanitarian crisis with no quick solutions. Some evacuees will be able to return to unburned homes. Most, now hunkered in hotels, staying with family and friends, or stuck in evacuation centers or unauthorized camps, have no home to return to, and are left wondering where their future lies.
At one point earlier this week, county officials estimated 50,000 people had been evacuated from the fire areas in and around Paradise and more than 1,000 are currently in sanctioned shelters, where norovirus has broken out in at least three facilities.
Some — and unknown number — have turned to makeshift communities where sanitation and safety are concerns.
“We’re on the edge,” said Ed Mayer, Butte County Housing Authority executive director.
Hundreds of evacuees are squatting at camp in a Walmart parking lot — a ramshackle village some inhabitants call Wallywood, a sardonic mash-up of their location and reduced circumstances.
“I just want to be safe and happy and in a home,” said DeAnn Miller, 57, one of the residents of Wallywood. Miller was homeless for a year before moving into a Paradise mobile home three months ago. It is likely gone, leaving her with nothing and no place to go.
“I need my home back,” she said, standing in dirty clothes next to a bucket of urine someone had left behind.
Sacramento Bee reporter Molly Sullivan contributed to this report.