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The Latest: Hearses gather amid search for wildfire victims

November 11, 2018

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the California wildfires (all times local):

9:50 a.m.

A parking lot in Paradise, California, is a staging area for hearses as search teams try to find the bodies of casualties from a devastating wildfire.

Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify the dead as the search went on for victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history. The death toll stood at 23 Sunday and appeared likely to climb.

The hearses are waiting for calls from the forensic teams searching for bodies.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is requesting a “major disaster declaration” from the president for the wildfires burning at both ends of the state.

Two people died in Southern California fires.

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9:45 a.m.

Chico police are searching for a man who stole a firefighter’s uniform shirt and then tried to sneak into his hotel room.

California Highway Patrol Lt. Denis Ford said Saturday that the thief broke into a marked fire department pickup truck from one of the numerous agencies fighting the fire that devastated the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Paradise this week. He stole items including the uniform shirt marked with the firefighter’s last name Saturday.

The thief then wore the uniform shirt as he tried to talk a Chico hotel clerk into letting him into the firefighter’s room, using the last name. But Ford said the clerk grew suspicious in part because he couldn’t fully identify himself and he fled without being arrested.

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9:30 a.m.

Authorities say more than 8,000 firefighters are battling three large wildfires at both ends of California that have destroyed thousands of structures and killed 25.

About 397 square miles (795 square kilometers) of California is burning with the Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County being the largest.

The Camp Fire has killed 23 and is the third-deadliest wildfire on record in California.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has hit hard celebrity-studded Malibu as well as the city of Thousand Oaks, which was the site of a deadly shooting at a country music bar last week.

Weather conditions for fires are ripe, with strong winds continuing through Sunday in Northern California and through Tuesday in Southern California.

Firefighters from out of state continue to arrive to help.

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9:20 a.m.

The wind-driven fire that ripped through the Northern California town of Paradise this week did not make a similar overnight run Sunday on the towns north east of Oroville as officials had feared it might.

“It definitely grew and it definitely grew in those areas,” said fire Capt. Bill Murphy, a spokesman for California’s firefighting agency. “It didn’t grow as much as we thought it potentially could based on the weather forecasts, but the wind will continue ... so that potential still exists.”

High, gusty winds predicted from Sunday into Monday morning mean another 24 hours of “red flag” conditions that could spark “explosive fire behavior” of the sort that leveled Paradise and other Sierra Foothill communities Thursday, he said.

That first chaotic day, the fire spread about 20 miles, from the tiny town of Pulga west to the edge of Chico.

The overall death toll from the outbreak of fires across California stood at 25 Sunday and appeared likely to rise.

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9 a.m.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is requesting a “major disaster declaration” from the president for the wildfires burning at both ends of the state.

His office said in a statement Sunday that the declaration would bolster ongoing emergency assistance and help residents recover from fires burning in Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

If granted, the declaration would make individuals eligible for crisis counseling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid.

The Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County has killed 23 people and is the third-deadliest on record in the state.

The overall death toll from the outbreak of fires in California stood at 25 Sunday and appeared likely to rise.

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8:30 a.m.

Conditions for firefighting in Southern California were favorable overnight and progress was made, but that’s expected to change.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Lucas Spelman says firefighters have achieved 10 percent containment of the largest of two fires in the region.

Forecasters, however, say the calm conditions will give way sometime Sunday morning to a new and prolonged round of Santa Ana winds, the withering gusts that blow out of the interior toward the coast.

The count of lost structures in both fires has reached 179, but that’s expected to rise as damage assessments continue.

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7:40 a.m.

Firefighters battling the third-deadliest wildfire in California record fended off strong winds overnight and increased their handle on the blaze.

California fire spokesman David Clark said Sunday that the Camp Fire grew slightly to 170 square miles (440 square kilometers), from 164 square miles (425 square kilometers) Saturday night.

It is now 25 percent contained, up from 20 percent Saturday.

Clark says crews are at a “pivotal point” and that high winds and dry conditions similar to when the fire started Thursday are expected for the next 24 hours.

The fire has destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes, and killed 23 people.

A pair of fires burning in Southern California has killed two and 250,000 remain under evacuation orders.

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7:30 a.m.

Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify the dead as the search went on for victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history. The death toll stood at 23 Sunday and appeared likely to climb.

With the town of Paradise reduced to a smoking ruin and the fire still raging in surrounding communities, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the Northern California county was bringing in a fifth search and recovery team.

An anthropology team from California State University at Chico was also assisting, because in some cases “the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments.”

The department compiled a list of 110 people unaccounted for, but officials held out hope that many were safe but had no cellphones or some other way to contact loved ones.

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