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Death toll from California wildfires rises as 130 still missing 

Paradise (US), November 15

The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on Wednesday as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing.

Most of those unaccounted for are from the Butte County town of Paradise, in northern California, which was virtually erased from the map by the so-called “Camp Fire” blaze that erupted last week.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told journalists Wednesday evening that 461 search and rescue personnel and 22 cadaver dogs were involved in the effort to locate those missing and DNA testing was being expedited to identify the victims.

“Beginning Thursday, anyone who believes a family member perished can provide a DNA sample” to the sheriff’s office, Honea said.

Paradise, a town of around 26,000 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was popular with retirees and many of those reported missing by the sheriff’s office are elderly — in their 70s, 80s and 90s. 

Virtually every home in Paradise, located 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the state capital Sacramento, was destroyed by the fast-moving fire fuelled by high winds.

At least 59 deaths have been reported so far from the devastating wildfires and body recovery teams were going house-to-house with cadaver dogs in Paradise on Wednesday.

“We are in the midst of a catastrophe,” Governor Jerry Brown told a press conference.

“The fire was unprecedented, overwhelming, so a lot of people got caught.” Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said Paradise was looking at a “total rebuild” with many homes, businesses and infrastructure destroyed.

“This is going to be a very long and frustrating event for the citizens of Paradise,” Long said.

“We’re going to have to find a new normal.”        

“You’re not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was.”   

An AFP reporter in Paradise on Wednesday saw crews removing trees, repairing fences along roads and towing away cars.

Authorities said livestock owners were being allowed in to restricted areas for brief periods to feed the animals but it was unclear when residents would be allowed back in.

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