The California wildfire, which has claimed 42 lives, is reported to be the deadliest in US history, according to authorities. Authorities have reported 13 more fatalities from a blaze in Northern California that destroyed a town. The dead have been found in burned-out cars, in the smoldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could jump in behind the wheel and escape.
In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner's investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them. The search for bodies was continuing.
Hundreds of people were unaccounted for by the sheriff's reckoning, four days after the fire swept over the town of 27,000 with flames so fierce that authorities brought in a mobile DNA lab and forensic anthropologists to help identify the dead.
Meanwhile, a landowner near where the blaze began, Betsy Ann Cowley, said she got an email from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. the day before the fire last week telling her that crews needed to come onto her property because the utility's power lines were causing sparks. PG&E had no comment on the email, and state officials said the cause of the inferno was under investigation, according to news agency AP.
"The magnitude of destruction we have seen is really unbelievable and heartbreaking, and our hearts go to everybody who has been affected by this," said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services.
Authorities said some 200,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders, including the entire city of Malibu. In Paradise, the flames destroyed hundreds of homes, a hospital, a gas station, several restaurants and numerous vehicles, officials said.
From miles around, acrid smoke could be seen in the sky around Paradise, the sun barely visible. On the ground, cars were reduced to metal carcasses, while power lines were also gnawed by the flames.
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Rescuers could be seen removing remains over a period of several hours in Paradise and placing them in a black hearse. Pieces of bodies were transported by bucket, while intact remains were carried in body bags.
A 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles killed 29 people, and a series of wildfires in Northern California's wine country last fall killed 44 people.
(With agency inputs)