AP News, News, Wildland Firefighting

Victims of Deadly CA Wildfire Found in Cars, Roadway

Berry Creek wildfire
Flames consume a home and car as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of 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)

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A 72-year-old man found dead in a vehicle and two other people discovered on a roadway were among the latest victims of the deadliest wildfire in California this year.

Fifteen people were killed last week in the North Complex fire burning about 125 miles (200 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, and two people remained missing, the Butte County sheriff’s office said late Tuesday.

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DNA testing was used to positively identify 10 of the victims, Sheriff Kory Honea said. They included Jacob Albright, 72, of Feather Falls, whose body was found in a vehicle on a property in the community.

The two bodies in the roadway were found in Berry Creek — one about 10 feet from an all-terrain vehicle, the other also near a vehicle, Honea said. One of them was identified as Paul Winer, 68, while the other has not been identified.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that more than 17,000 firefighters were battling some 25 major fires that were ignited in the past month, after an unprecedented lightning siege in mid-August.

The death toll stands at 25, with at least 4,200 structures destroyed statewide and more than 38,000 people under evacuation.

Bewsom said environmental stewardship is not a partisan issue in the state that has had governors from both major political parties.

“We need to reconcile the fact there are no Democratic thermometers and no Republican thermometers,” he said about global warming.

In Butte County, winds thrashed the fire into explosive growth on Sept. 8, driving it through rugged Sierra Nevada foothills and destroying much of the town of Berry Creek.

Two people found on a 5-acre property in Berry Creek couldn’t escape fast enough, Honea said. The body of Philip Rubel, 68, was found inside a burned pickup truck, and Millicent Catarancuic, 77, was discoered down an embankment.

“They had packed their belongings in preparation to evacuate but later decided not to evacuate based on erroneous information that the fire was 51% contained,” Honea said.

The two lived on the compound with Catarancuic’s sister, Suzan Violet Zurz, who remained missing.

Others killed in the fire were Randy Harrell, 67, of Feather Falls and John Butler, 79, Sandra Butler, 75, Jorge Hernandez-Juarez, 26, Khawar Bhatti, 58, and Josiah Williams, 16, all of Berry Creek.

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