The massive fire in Northern California that has raged since Thursday is now responsible for six more deaths. That brings the death total in one town to 29, matching the deadliest California fire on record. Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea described the damage to some neighborhoods as so complete that determining whether additional remains are present is “very difficult.”
The town of Paradise, California, has been effectively wiped off the map by the blaze. On Sunday, according to a report by the Daily Mail, five more bodies were found in homes and another in a vehicle, bringing the city’s total to 29.
Honea, describing the devastation in Paradise, a town with a population of 27,000, said that “it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there.”
“In some cases,” he added, “the only remains we are able to recover are bones or bone fragments.”
Honea also stated that 228 people are unaccounted for, signaling that the death toll may continue to climb.
Statewide, the total deaths from wildfires hit 31.
One of the deceased was identified as 70-year-old Ellen Walker, an ailing woman who was home alone with the fire hit the town on Thursday and found dead in her bed.
The 29 deaths make the fire a tie for the deadliest on record in the state. The other fire with the same death toll, a blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, happened in 1933.
“This weighs heavy on all of us,” said Honea. “Myself and especially those staff members who are out there doing what is important work but certainly difficult work.”
A mobile DNA lab along with anthropologists have joined the 10 search and recovery teams working in Paradise, providing a way to potentially identify additional victims as they are discovered.
Officials warn that the fire, which is still raging, may intensify as strong winds are expected in the area through Tuesday, at times with gusts up to 50 mph that, according to Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy, could spark “explosive fire behavior.”
“Sadly, with these winds, it’s not over yet,” said Cal Fire San Luis Obispo Unit Chief Scott Jalbert.
Currently, over 8,000 firefighters are battling against the deadly blazes.