CHICO, Calif. — Searchers combing a Northern California town leveled by a deadly wildfire stepped up their efforts Sunday ahead of rains forecast later this week in the fire zone where 76 bodies have been recovered so far.
While the rain would help tamp down the blaze, it could also turn the area into a muddy mess and hinder efforts to find the remains of more victims in the town of Paradise.
Authorities said late Saturday that 1,300 names remain on a list of people who are unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County. Authorities stressed that the long roster does not mean they believe all those on the list are missing.
Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded with evacuees to review the list of those reported as unreachable by family and friends and to call the department if those people are safe.
Deputies have located hundreds of people to date, but the overall number keeps growing because they are adding more names, including those from the chaotic early hours of the disaster, Honea said.
“Anytime you add a new element — rain, wind, all those kinds of things — you start disturbing things, spreading things around,” Honea said Saturday. “As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible.”
Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze.
Hundreds of search and recovery personnel from around the state are working to find remains, going to homes when they receive tips that someone might have died there.
But they are also doing a more comprehensive, “door-to-door” and “car-to-car” search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.
The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.
The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.
“Here we’re looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches,” he said Friday.
The remains of five more people were found Saturday, including four in Paradise and one in nearby Concow, bringing the number of dead to 76.
Among them was Lolene Rios, 56, whose son Jed tearfully told KXTV in Sacramento that his mother had an “endless amount of love” for him.
President Donald Trump toured the area Saturday, joined by California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp barbs with the Republican administration.
The president also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in California, we’ve never seen anything like this yet. It’s like total devastation,” Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise and pledged the full support of the federal government.
Soon after the fire began, Trump blamed state officials for poor forest management and threatened to cut off federal funding.
“He’s got our back,” outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president,” Brown said. “But in the face of tragedy, people tend to rise above some of their lesser propensities. So I think we’re on a good path.”
He also suggested California’s severe wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years,” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from fires.
Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph sustained winds and 40 mph gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.
Northern California’s Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and torched 233 square miles. It was 55 percent contained.
Honea expressed hope that Trump’s visit would help with recovery, saying the tour by the Republican president and California’s Democratic leaders “signals a spirit of cooperation here that ultimately benefit this community and get us on a path toward recovery.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump isn’t committing to a previous pledge to keep chief of staff John Kelly for the remainder of his term, part of widespread speculation about staffing changes that could soon sweep through his administration.
Trump, in a wide-ranging interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday,” praised Kelly’s work ethic and much of what he brings to the position but added, “There are certain things that I don’t like that he does.”
“There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault. It’s not his strength,” said Trump, who added that Kelly himself might want to depart.
Asked whether he would keep Kelly in his post through 2020, the president offered only that “it could happen.” Trump had earlier pledged publicly that Kelly would remain through his first term in office, though many in the West Wing were skeptical.
Trump said he was happy with his Cabinet but was thinking about changing “three or four or five positions.” One of them is Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen, whose departure is now considered inevitable. Trump said in the interview that he could keep her on, but he made clear that he wished she would be tougher in implementing his hard-line immigration policies and enforcing border security.
The list of potential replacements for Nielsen includes a career lawman, two military officers and former acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement head. But her eventual replacement will find there’s no getting around the immigration laws and court challenges that have thwarted the president’s hard-line agenda at every turn — even if there’s better personal chemistry.
Trump also discussed the removal of Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser who is being moved to another position in the administration after clashes with the East Wing culminated in an extraordinary statement from first lady Melania Trump that called for her removal. The president said Ricardel was “not too diplomatic, but she’s talented” and downplayed the idea that his wife was calling the shots in the White House.
“(The first lady’s team) wanted to go a little bit public because that’s the way they felt and I thought it was fine,” Trump said.
He also dismissed a series of reports that he had been fuming in the week after the Democrats captured the House of Representatives, claiming instead that the mood of the West Wing was “very light.”
The president also addressed a series of other topics:
NEW YORK — There’s no reason to skip Thanksgiving dinner because of a salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey.
That’s according to health officials who’ve been monitoring the year-old outbreak. But they say it’s a reminder to properly prepare your holiday bird. Cooking kills salmonella.
The ongoing outbreak and recall last week of ground turkey may nevertheless leave you with a few questions when reaching for a plate of turkey.
Salmonella is considered widespread in poultry, and it’s perfectly legal for supermarkets to sell raw turkey that has the bacteria. Part of the rationale for allowing salmonella is that people don’t eat chicken medium rare, said Timothy Lytton, a Georgia State University law professor. In 1974, a court said that “American housewives and cooks normally are not ignorant and stupid” and that they know how to prepare food so people don’t get sick.
Even though salmonella is not prohibited in raw meat or poultry, regulators check to make sure the number of samples at processing plants that test positive for the bacteria is within standards. Rules are tighter for whole turkeys, and the industry says the chances of finding salmonella in whole birds are “exceedingly low.”
The turkey industry cites steps it takes to reduce risk, such as the use of antimicrobial rinses.
The rules differ for other products. For instance, salmonella is not allowed in packaged foods that aren’t cooked to kill germs.
Since it began last year, the outbreak linked to raw turkey has caused one death and 164 reported illnesses in 35 states. Until last week, regulators hadn’t been able to tie any cases to a specific product or supplier. That’s even though investigators said 29 unidentified slaughtering and processing plants tested positive for the salmonella strain involved.
The recall could be confusing because federal regulations are contradictory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t prohibit salmonella but can ask companies to recall products once they are clearly shown to be responsible for illnesses. The USDA’s Carmen Rottenberg said the agency can’t take action until it has enough evidence.
According to the USDA, the people who got food poisoning reported eating different kinds of turkey products and brands. Cases also included people who handled raw turkey pet food or worked with live turkeys.
Salmonella spreads through animal feces. It is blamed for an estimated 1 million cases of food poisoning a year, with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Whether someone gets sick depends on the strength of the strain, the amount and the person’s susceptibility, the USDA notes. But the agency says cooking should kill salmonella.
The USDA tied one illness in Arizona to Jennie-O ground turkey meat. The recall by Jennie-O was limited to turkey from a single day’s production in September from a manufacturing line in Wisconsin. The packages had use-by dates of early October but could still be in freezers.
Regulators say more products from other companies could still be linked to the illnesses. Parent company Hormel Foods Corp. said it owns five of the 29 plants that tested positive for the germ.
The ongoing outbreak doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more food poisoning from salmonella. Improved detection might just be discovering outbreaks that in the past might have seemed like unrelated cases, said Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“It’s shedding a light on a longstanding problem,” she said.
Health officials say proper handling and cooking should kill any salmonella. A few points to remember:
Hormel’s Richard Carlson stressed salmonella in turkey is not unusual and that proper handling and cooking should get rid of it — even in the Jennie-O ground turkey recalled last week. Regulators, though, say to throw it out.