The death toll from devastating wildfires in northern and southern California has risen to 66 as authorities search for dozens of people who remain missing in the aftermath of the blazes. In northern California, the weather is giving firefighters a break.
Authorities say cooler temperatures are helping crews gain ground as they fight the deadly Camp Fire, which is now 40 percent contained. The deadliest blaze in the state's history has spanned nearly 570 square kilometers.
In Paradise, a town virtually wiped out last week soon after the fire started, hundreds of people, along with cadaver dogs, were searching for bodies amid the ashes. Officials said they hoped a Rapid DNA analysis technique would help speed the identification of victims and notification of their families.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, visited the area Wednesday. Brown blamed climate change and drought for the massive blaze, while Zinke cautioned against assigning blame to any one factor.
"Now is not the time to point fingers," he said, saying dead trees, higher temperatures and poor forest management were among the causes.
Long said it would take years for residents of Paradise to rebuild, if they choose to do so.
Wildfires are common in California, particularly at this time of year when warm, dry winds help fan the flames. Close to 8,800 homes have been destroyed in Northern California.
Aviva Braun of the National Weather Service said forecasters were increasingly confident the area would see relief in the form of rain by the end of next week. Lingering smoke was lowering air quality in the area.
Survivors escaped to rescue shelters, posting pictures of their loved ones and friends on bulletin boards in the hope someone might know whether they were able to flee to safety.
One evacuee, Harold Taylor, told the Associated Press, "We didn't have 10 minutes to get out of there. It was already in flames downtown, all of the local restaurants and stuff."
Taylor said he unsuccessfully sought to persuade a neighbor to escape with him and did not know what had happened to him.
Trump to Visit Region
The White House announced that President Donald Trump would visit wildfire victims on Saturday. He plans to travel to both regions of California that have been devastated by the blazes.
Trump's visit comes a week after he initially blamed California officials for the wildfires and threatened to withhold federal money. His tweets did not mention California's drought conditions.
The International Association of Firefighters responded last week, calling the president's comments an "irresponsible" and "reckless" act.
The president "has chosen to respond with an irresponsible, reckless and insulting tweet criticizing the work being done on the frontline to contain these disasters. While fire fighters and civilians are still in harm's way, the president even suggested cutting off necessary funding to keep Americans safe," the union said in a statement Saturday.
He then backtracked hours later, tweeting condolences to those affected by the fires, and approved a disaster declaration for the state.
"Thank you to the great Firefighters, First Responders and @FEMA for the incredible job they are doing w/ the California Wildfires. Our Nation appreciates your heroism, courage & genius. God Bless you all!" Trump said on Twitter.
Was just briefed by @FEMA_Brock and @SecretaryZinke, who are in California. Thank you to the great Firefighters, First Responders and @FEMA for the incredible job they are doing w/ the California Wildfires. Our Nation appreciates your heroism, courage & genius. God Bless you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2018
The cause of the fires was still under investigation, although two utility companies reported circuit and transmission problems about the time the blazes started last Thursday.
In Southern California, a third body was found in the wreckage wrought by the Woolsey Fire, which left a trail of destruction through Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A number of Hollywood celebrities were among those who lost homes in Malibu and Calabasas.