At least 63 people have died in a Northern California wildfire while 631 people are sill unaccounted for, authorities have said.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea revealed the increased missing persons total at a news conference on Thursday, having put the figure at 130 just a day earlier.
The list probably included some who had fled the blaze and did not realise they had been reported missing, he added.
“The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary,” he said of the early crisis hours last week. “Now we’re trying to go back out and make sure that we’re accounting for everyone.”
Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on the town of Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.
But Paradise’s carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus.
Now authorities are facing questions over whether they took the right approach.
Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she could not receive warnings because mobile phones were not working. She also lost electrical power.
“The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people,” the sheriff said.
Firefighters continued gaining ground against the 222-square mile blaze, which was reported to be 45% contained on Friday. It destroyed 9,700 houses and 144 apartment buildings, the state fire agency said.
President Donald Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to visit victims of the wildfires burning at both ends of the state.
In Southern California, crews continued to gain ground against a blaze of more than 153 square miles that destroyed more than 500 structures in Malibu and communities. At least three deaths were reported.