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10 dead as California wildfire becomes deadliest of year

GRIDLEY, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California wildfire that destroyed a foothill hamlet has become the state’s deadliest blaze of the year with 10 people confirmed dead — and the toll could climb as searchers look for 16 missing people.

The North Complex fire that exploded in wind-driven flames earlier in the week was advancing more slowly Friday after the winds eased and smoke from the blaze shaded the area and lowered the temperature, allowing firefighters to make progress, authorities said.

However, the smoke made for poor visibility and fire helicopters couldn’t fly Thursday.

In most parts of the state, red flag warnings of extreme fire danger because of hot, dry weather or gusty winds were lifted.

Only a day or two earlier, the North Complex fire tore through Sierra Nevada foothills so quickly that fire crews were nearly engulfed, locals fled for their lives to a pond, and the town of Berry Creek, population 525, was gutted.

61 PHOTOSCalifornia wildfiresSee GalleryCalifornia wildfiresIn this image taken with a slow shutter speed, embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)Flames lick above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A bicycle burns on an unattended property near Del Dios Highway in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego, California October 23, 2007. Wildfires stoked by fierce winds burned unchecked across Southern California for a third day on Tuesday with 300,000 people in San Diego alone evacuated as flames destroyed or threatened homes from humble forest cabins to luxury villas. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)Also see GF2DWTIKDNAAA firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., as the El Dorado Fire continues to burn Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2020. The fire started by a device at a gender reveal party on Saturday. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)Firefighters watch the Bear Fire approach in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A plume rises from the Bear Fire as it burns along Lake Oroville on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Butte County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Smoke and haze from wildfires partially obscures the view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffery Shipman, left, stands along California State Highway 168 as the Creek Fire burns in the near vicinity, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)The Creek Fire burns in the Sierra National Forest, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, near Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage near a Southern California Edison power station to protect it from the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter covers himself from flying embers while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, walk down a hillside while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)TOPSHOT – A charred swing set and car are seen after the passage of the Santiam Fire in Gates, Oregon, on September 10, 2020. – California firefighters battled the state’s largest ever inferno on September 10, as tens of thousands of people fled blazes up and down the US West Coast and officials warned the death toll could shoot up in coming days. At least eight people have been confirmed dead in the past 24 hours across California, Oregon and Washington, but officials say some areas are still impossible to reach, meaning the number is likely to rise. (Photo by Kathryn ELSESSER / AFP) (Photo by KATHRYN ELSESSER/AFP via Getty Images)A firefighter uses a hose to try to extinguish flames from a burning structure while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitor hot spots while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A member of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitors flames caused by the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Bobcat Fire is seen from California State Highway 39 in Azusa, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020 The heat wave was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of California through Monday. Temperatures in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles reached 116 degrees (46 Celsius) for the second day in a row, forecasters said. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from wildfires clouds the sky over greater Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, as seen from Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/John Antczak)Firefighters ignite a controlled burn with drip torches while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter runs along state Highway 168 with a flare as part of a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighter Ricardo Gomez, of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, sets a controlled burn with a drip torch while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)CORRECTS MONTH TO SEPTEMBER INSTEAD OF AUGUST – People load water into their car in front of a Trader Joe’s grocery store as smoke from the Bobcat Fire rises in the background, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Azusa, Calif. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)A firefighter watches the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage along the lake while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter walks along state Highway 168 with a drip torch during a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite a controlled burn as he fights the Creek Fire along state Highway 168, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Creek Fire fills the air over a boating dock, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Gabe Huck, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, walks along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Los Angeles Fire Department personnel work to douse several small brush fires in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire at the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was ablaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters make their way into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Smoke rises from a wildfire burning at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspot at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighter works to douse the remains of a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A helicopter prepares to drop water at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns near homes in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Firefighters rest during a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspots at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A plane drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An orange sky filled with wildfire smoke hangs above hiking trails at the Limeridge Open Space in Concord, California, on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by Brittany HOSEA-SMALL / AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPT. 9: San Francisco City Hall is seen under a sky glowing orangedue to smoke from the wildfires on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 in San Francisco, Calif. (Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air as fire continues to spread during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes Tuesday, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)OAKLAND, CA – SEPT. 9 This photo of the Mormon Temple, taken with a daylight white balance, shows the effect of smoke from surrounding wildfires in the sky above Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, September 09, 2020. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)NAPA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 09: Golfers warm up on the driving range during the preview day of the Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club on September 9, 2020 in Napa, California. Wildfires rage throughout the state as record high temperatures and dry vegetation fuel the fast-moving, destructive blazes.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)Up Next

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On Thursday, Butte County sheriff’s Capt. Derek Bell said seven bodies were discovered, bringing the total to 10 in two days. At least four people with critical burns were hospitalized.

Deputies and detectives were searching for human remains as they made their way into devastated areas with a team of anthropologists from Chico State University, Bell said.

Burned-out and overturned cars, downed power lines and the ruins of buildings littered Berry Creek and nearby areas, the Sacramento Bee reported. One hatchback found on a dirt road had three dead dogs in it, while a pickup truck had the remnants of a guitar case and melted CDs in the bed.

More than 2,000 homes and other buildings had burned in the fire, which began several weeks ago as a lightning-sparked collection of blazes northeast of San Francisco. The final toll is expected to be much higher. Damage assessment teams planned to begin a methodical search of the burned areas on Friday.

Among those unaccounted for were Sandy Butler and her husband, who had called their son to say they were going to try to escape the flames by finding shelter in a pond.

“We’re still hoping and praying for good news,” said Jessica Fallon, who has two children with the Butler’s grandson and considers them her own grandparents. “Everything is replaceable, but not my grandparents’ lives. I’d rather lose everything than those two. They kind of held the family together.”

Fallon said she’d been peppering hospitals with phone calls in search of her grandparents. There was no word of them late Thursday night.

The speed and ferocity of the fire astonished observers, even those who remembered a blaze only two years earlier that killed some 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise, a few miles away from the current blaze.

Residents jammed the main road out of town on Wednesday amid falling ash and red skies. Authorities lifted an evacuation warning for Paradise on Thursday but authorities urged people to remain alert.

The blaze is among 29 major West Coast wildfires burning

A crew fighting the fire was overrun by flames Wednesday when winds shifted and its members escaped with only minor injuries after deploying emergency shelters. It was the second time in two days that firefighters in California had to take the rare last-ditch effort to save their lives.

The blaze is among 29 major wildfires burning from the Oregon border to just north of Mexico. More than 4,800 square miles (12,500 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — more land than Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington, D.C., combined — and fall is typically the worst season for fires. Nineteen people have been killed and at least 4,000 structures have burned across California.

“It’s a historic season on top of a historic season that replaced a historic season. We just keep setting new precedents, and then we keep destroying them,” said Sean Norman, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Smoke blew into vineyards in wine country north of San Francisco, and rose above scenic Big Sur on the Central Coast and in the foothills and mountains of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties in the southern part of the state.

President Donald Trump spoke with Gov. Gavin Newsom “to express his condolences for the loss of life and reiterate the administration’s full support to help those on the front lines of the fires,” according to White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Neighboring Oregon and Washington also have been beseiged.

More than 1,400 square miles (3,625 square kilometers) have burned this week in Oregon, where hot, windy conditions continued. Authorities said more than 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.

Wildfires have scorched nearly 937 square miles (2,426 kilometers) in Washington.

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