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The Latest: Fire victims’ families urged to give DNA

November 20, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on California’s wildfires (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

Authorities are using a rapid DNA test that produces results in just two hours to help identify the scores of people killed by the Northern California wildfire.

The company ANDE is donating the technology. Relatives of missing people can provide DNA samples via cheek swabs. But not enough people have been coming forward — only about 60 at last count.

Company spokeswoman Annette Mattern says hundreds of samples are needed.

The death toll nearly two weeks after the inferno stands at 79, with about 700 people unaccounted for.

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12:30 p.m.

Victims of a destructive Southern California wildfire have sued Southern California Edison, alleging the utility was negligent in failing to shut off power before the blaze started.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say Tuesday that nearly 20 people are part of the class-action lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Edison says a statement it can’t comment on litigation related to wildfires.

The court filing accuses Edison of contributing to the fire’s destruction by ignoring warnings of extreme fire weather. The lawsuit says the utility only shut power off once the fire started.

The cause of the so-called Woolsey Fire remains under investigation.

Attorneys are seeking compensation for plaintiffs’ damaged property, lost wages and attorney fees.

The fire has destroyed at least 1,500 structures since erupting Nov. 8. Full containment is expected this week.

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10:50 a.m.

A transmission line that utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company says malfunctioned minutes before Northern California’s deadly wildfire was supported by steel towers that toppled over in a fierce 2012 storm.

The Mercury News of San Jose reported Tuesday that trouble on PG&E’s 115,000-volt Caribou Palermo line date to December 2012, when five towers toppled.

PG&E proposed replacing six towers on the line by 2013 and finished the repairs in 2016.

In a regulatory filing after the devastating Nov. 8 fire, PG&E said it detected an outage on an electrical transmission line near the site of the blaze.

It said a subsequent aerial inspection showed damage to a tower on the line in the town of Pulga. Another transmission line in the nearby community of Concow also malfunctioned a short time later, possibly sparking a second fire.

PG&E has said it is cooperating with investigations into the fire.

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10:45 a.m.

A top Trump administration official is accusing “radical environmentalists” of blocking thinning and grazing in forests that he says could prevent wildfires.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reiterated the administration’s blame of environmental policies in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

He cites “lawsuit after lawsuit” by “the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree.”

He appeared to make a nod at the changing climate that scientists say is contributing to hotter, bigger, deadlier and more frequent wildfires.

Many wildfire experts and California’s Democratic leaders counter the Trump administration’s arguments, saying most of California’s deadly recent fires are not in forests, and that thinning trees would not have affected those blazes.

Much of the California land that has burned recently is covered with brush and grass and few trees.

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10:30 a.m.

Newly released video shows the dramatic moment firefighters rescued three people and two dogs as thick smoke and flames fast approached in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Fire Department released video Tuesday of a helicopter crew rescuing the group from a mountain peak as a wildfire bore down.

The Nov. 9 video was taken as pilots David Nordquist and Joel Smith battled the Woolsey Fire, which was raging through the Santa Monica Mountains toward Malibu.

The crew was making a water drop when it was asked to rescue the group. The pilots headed that way despite dwindling fuel.

With smoke darkening the sky, they hunted for a landing spot among antenna towers, service buildings, cars and vegetation.

They finally found a tight spot and saved the people and their pets.

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9 a.m.

Fire officials say firefighters have gained ground against a Northern California wildfire that killed at least 79 people.

The California The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Tuesday that the fire is now 70 percent contained. That’s up from 66 percent Monday morning. The blaze’s size remained at 236 square miles (611 square kilometers).

The gains come ahead of rain forecast for the region starting Wednesday that is expected to last through the Thanksgiving weekend.

The National Weather Service has issue and flash flood watch for wildfire-scarred areas.

It says newly burned areas in and around Paradise are prone to downhill ash and debris flows.

Officials say they worry rain could complicate the efforts of the crews searching for human remains by washing away signs of the dead or turning the dusty debris into a thick paste.

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12 a.m.

With 79 people killed in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in at least a century, there are still nearly 700 names on the list of those unaccounted for. While it’s down from nearly 1,000 the day before, it is inexact, progress has been slow, and the many days of uncertainty are adding to the stress.

More than a dozen people are marked as “unknowns,” without first or last names. In some cases, names are listed twice or more times under different spellings. Others are confirmed dead, and their names simply haven’t been taken off yet.

Survivors and relatives of those caught in the fire in Northern California are using social media to get the word out. In some cases, they post that their loved ones were safe. In others, they plead for help.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said he released the rough and incomplete list in hopes that people would contact authorities to say they are OK. He has called it raw data compiled from phone calls, emails and other reports.

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