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Wildfire's death toll hits 48

Ernest Foss was a musician who gave lessons out of his home when he lived in San Francisco, where an amplifier that ran the length of a wall served as the family's living room couch. Carl Wiley refurbished tires for Michelin. Jesus Fernandez, known as "Zeus," was described as a loving father and loyal friend.

They were among the first victims identified in the aftermath of the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history, an inferno blamed for at least 48 deaths, with authorities ramping up the search Tuesday for still more souls.

The flames all but obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise, population 27,000, and ravaged surrounding areas last Thursday. About 7,700 homes were destroyed.

The exact number of missing was unclear, but many friends and relatives of those living in the fire zone said they hadn't heard from loved ones. Some went to shelters looking for the missing.

Efforts were underway to bring in mobile morgues, cadaver dogs, a rapid DNA analysis system for identifying victims, and an additional 150 search-and-rescue personnel on top of 13 teams already looking for remains — a grim indication that the death toll would almost surely rise.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea's office has identified four of the victims, publicly naming three.

James Wiley said sheriff's deputies informed him that his father, Carl, was among the dead, but the younger Wiley hadn't been able to leave his property in the fire area to see for himself. The elder Wiley, 77, was a tire-recapper, and the family lived in Alaska for many years before moving to Butte County decades ago.

James Wiley said his father was a stoic veteran, and the two had not spoken in six years. "Hey, I lost him a long time ago," the younger man said.

Foss, 63, moved to Paradise eight years ago because the high cost of living pushed him out of the San Francisco Bay Area, according to his daughter, Angela Loo. He had swollen limbs and couldn't walk. He had also been on oxygen.

Loo told KTVU-TV in Oakland that her father taught music out of their home in San Francisco and turned the living room into a studio.

"I love that he shared his gift of music with me and so many others during his lifetime," she said. "He would want to be remembered for being a San Franciscan through and through."

Fernandez, a 48-year-old Concow resident, also died.

Myrna Pascua, whose husband was best friends with the man known as "Zeus," called him a "tireless provider, a dependable and loyal friend, a considerate neighbour, and loving father. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Five days after the blaze, over 1,000 people were at more than a half-dozen shelters set up for evacuees. At the Neighbourhood Church in Chico, counsellors, chaplains and nursing students from California State University, Chico, were available to help.

Volunteers cooked meals, and there was a large bulletin board with information about missing people.

Eddie Lazarom, who fled Paradise on foot before getting a lift from a UPS truck, was among those staying at the church. He said he had yet to hear from his three grandchildren, ages 22, 24 and 28.

"I am really worried about them. They have common sense, I'm sure, but I'd hate to find out later that they burned up," he said.

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California .



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