Ten Dead In North Complex Fire, Town Of Berry Creek Destroyed

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Almost two years after the Camp Fire roared through Butte County killing 85 people, it’s happening again with the North Complex Fire.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office confirmed Thursday evening that seven more people have been found dead, bringing the total deceased to 10. The fire is now the state's deadliest blaze of the year. The San Francisco Chronicle has identified one victim, 16-year-old Josiah Williams of Berry Creek. Officials are still looking for another 16 people who have been reported missing.

The lightning-sparked fire smoldered for weeks in the Plumas National Forest as part of the North Complex fire, but then wild winds Tuesday caused the fire to explode in size and ferocity, making ashes of the town of the Berry Creek near Lake Oroville.

The fire has burned a quarter of a million acres of land, damaged or destroyed 2,000 structures and threatens 23,000 more. The U.S. Forest Service said Friday that fire is now 23% contained and thankfully is no longer be threatening the town of Paradise, which is still being rebuilt after it was destroyed by wildfire two years ago. But that is about the only piece of good news.

Higher humidity and decreased winds allowed crews to make some progress and develop containment lines, but lack of visibility is a continued factor in the aggressive fight against the blazes. 

"The smoke is, it is a blessing and a malediction," said CAL FIRE Operations Chief Shane Lauderdale. "The blessing is that the smoke cools us, as it has today, and under that cooling air the firefighters are able to make a great deal of progress and had today. Flipside of that is aircraft do not fly well in zero visibility."

An estimated 20,000 people have had to evacuate. As nightfall approached Wednesday, the county was still struggling to find shelter for 140 families because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy county administrator Sang Kim thanked first responders. "It’s amazing how many times we’ve called on you and you respond. And I can’t thank you sincerely enough."

First responders and firefighters say with a devastating amount of fires burning around the state, resources are extremely strained. This means that a significant way residents can help in the firefighting effort is to heed evacuation orders.