MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — The death toll is now five from a pair of the most destructive wildfires in recent years in California.
The two major blazes, which together have destroyed more than 800 homes, have been significantly diminished in cooler, wetter weather, and firefighters were working to extend fire lines before an expected hot weekend arrives.
Two more bodies were found in the burned ruins of homes, authorities said Thursday. They were presumed to be Bruce Beven Burns and former San Jose Mercury News police reporter Leonard Neft, though official identifications have yet to be made, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department said.
Shirley Burns said her 65-year-old brother-in-law might have been sleeping in his trailer and didn’t realize the fire was speeding toward him on Saturday.
“It came in very fast, it was a monster,” she said from her home in Lodi.
She recalled Burns as a laid-back guy who sold items at a Clear Lake flea market and lived in a trailer at the family’s metal recycling yard.
“He reminded me of a big Teddy bear,” Shirley Burns said. “He was a real kind and gentle person. He had a beard and looked like a mountain man.”
On Sunday another woman, 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams, was found dead in the same area near Middletown about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
Two other bodies were found inside homes destroyed in a separate wildfire about 170 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said.
One was identified as Mark McCloud, 65, who was found Tuesday in the Mountain Ranch area.
Raggio wouldn’t release the name of the other victim because the family had not been notified.
The news was better for some.
Lacey Null said her father, 56-year-old Ed Null, has no permanent address but was thought to be in the fire zone near Middletown and hadn’t been seen or heard from since the blaze broke out. She said the family had feared the worst until he was found to be fine at the home of a friend Thursday.
“He’s safe and sound,” a relieved Null said by phone. “There was no way to contact him. He hadn’t contacted any of his family.”
Firefighters gained ground on the massive blazes after cooler weather and rain descended on the area.
The fire in Lake County had charred 115 square miles and was 35 percent contained. An estimated 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned.
The fire in Amador and Calaveras counties has burned 110 square miles. It was 49 percent contained after destroying 252 homes.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris warned of reports of price-gouging by hotels in wildfire areas, saying her office is prepared to investigate anyone looking to wrongly profit from the destruction.
State law generally prohibits raising prices by more than 10 percent after an emergency is declared.
Bender reported from San Francisco.