SAN FRANCISCO – Almost two weeks since the massive wildfire began and which has already claimed 81 lives in northern California, the number of missing persons continues to fluctuate wildly in the chaos, standing at 699 Tuesday.
The figure is 300 less than that of Monday, but six times greater than the one released a week ago, when authorities reported around 100 missing.
These fluctuations since the fire was reported on Nov. 8 rise or fall substantially each day due to the chaos in the area affected by the flames (currently 75% contained) and the fact that tens of thousands of people remain evacuated.
The fire devastated the town of Paradise with a population of 26,000 and home to many elderly or retired people who, in many cases, live alone, have reduced mobility and do not have mobile phones, making the location tasks enormously difficult.
Authorities of Butte county, where the fire is developing, have warned that some people on the missing list may have been listed twice due to misspellings or errors, while others may be safe and not aware they were being searched for.
The missing persons list is changed daily according to new information received, mostly through phone calls and emails from relatives.
In addition to causing 81 deaths and leaving 699 missing, the fire has razed more than 15,000 buildings (mostly in Paradise) and 61,614 hectares (152,252 acres).
According to National Weather Service forecasts, the first rains will arrive Wednesday in the area of Butte County where the fire is raging. It is an extremely dry region which has not received rainfall in months.
Meteorologists are almost certain of rainfall but not heavy enough to risk landslides in the area destroyed by the fire.
Authorities said they fear that although the water will help with the containment of the fire, it could make the recovery of bodies difficult.
In addition, rainfall and mud could present risks to the tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated to temporary shelters.