World

California fire toll rises, 1276 missing

By AAP Newswire

The number of people missing after California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire has jumped to 1276, despite authorities locating hundreds of people who scattered when the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.

Forensic recovery teams sifting through the charred wreckage recovered the remains of five more victims, bringing the death toll to at least 76, authorities said.

Sixty-three of them have been tentatively identified, pending DNA confirmation.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said much of the increase in the number of missing was due to his office's efforts to comb through a backlog of emergency calls that came in during the first hours of the fire on November 8.

He said officials were sifting through the list of missing persons for duplications and people who fled. Some 380 people had been located and taken off the list since Friday, he said.

"A lot of progress is being made with regard to that, but this is still raw data," Honea said.

The sheriff spoke after US President Donald Trump visited Paradise, the small community that was home to nearly 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills, 280 km north of San Francisco, before being all but consumed by the blaze.

"Nobody could have thought this would ever happen," Trump told reporters amid the charred wreckage of the town's Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park.

"This is very sad to see. As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet," Trump said.

"Right now we want to take care of the people who have been so badly hurt."

Trump was flanked by California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Brown said the federal government was doing what it needed to do, including supporting first responders and helping with clean-up and search for victims.

Trump has blamed the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, and said he discussed the issue with Brown and Newsom on the ride into Paradise.

Asked whether the scenes of devastation had changed his view on climate change, Trump said: "No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate and we're going to have that and we're going to have forests that are very safe."

Authorities attribute the high death toll from the blaze - dubbed "Camp Fire" - partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town with little warning, driven by howling winds and fuelled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.

More than a week later, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 55 per cent of the blaze's perimeter.

Hundreds of evacuees are being housed in 14 emergency shelters set up in churches, schools and community centres around the region, with more than 46,000 people remaining under evacuation orders, authorities said.

The outbreak of Camp Fire coincided with a series of smaller blazes in Southern California, most notably the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles.

Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California and elsewhere across the West are largely attributable to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.