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Bear Fire Update: 7 More Fatalities Confirmed In Butte County, Raising Fire Death Toll To 10

CHICO (CBS SF) -- Authorities in Butte County announced Thursday evening that seven more fatalities have been confirmed in connection with the Bear Fire in Butte County, which has been renamed the North Complex West Zone Fire.

The seven new bodies found by detectives and deputies in connection with the fire brings the total number of fatalities to ten, a Butte County Sheriff's Office spokesperson confirmed. The circumstances of the deaths were still being investigating and the identities of the bodies found have not been released.

One of the victims was a 16-year-old boy who had been previously been reported missing by his mother. Jessica Williams said DNA evidence found confirmed her son Josiah had been killed in the fire.

According to the Butte County Sheriff's Office, 16 people remain unaccounted for out of the 124 people reported missing in the fire. Authorities are continuing their search of the burn area and ask that anyone who has previously been reported missing but has since been accounted for to contact the Butte County Sheriff.

Cal Fire earlier in the day announced that the Bear Fire that ripped through Berry Creek would now be referred to as the North Complex West Zone Fire. As of Thursday evening, that portion of the North Complex Fire had grown to 65,295 acres and was at zero containment.

Cal Fire officials said that of a total of 4,200 structures threatened by the fire in the West Zone, approximately 2,000 had been damaged or destroyed. Officials noted that those figures from the Cal Fire damage assessment team could change and asked for the patience of residents and evaluations continued.

Detailed information on evacuation orders and warnings currently in effect is available on the North Complex Fire incident website.

Authorities had announced on Wednesday that 12 people were missing three people had died in connection with the fire.

Some 20,000 people are under evacuation orders in the area. An evacuation warning for the Paradise, devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire, was lifted Thursday morning. Parts of neighboring Concow, also virtually destroyed by the Camp Fire, remained under an evacuation warning.

The Bear Fire, which Cal Fire is now calling the North Complex West Zone, has burned 70,250 acres with zero containment as of Thursday morning. The North Complex fires in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties have exploded in the last 48 hours after burning for about three weeks, damaging or destroying hundreds of homes and other structures.

As of Thursday morning, the North Complex fires had burned 247,358 acres, or 386 square miles, with containment at 23 percent. The acreage was adjusted down from the 252,163 acres reported earlier. Cal Fire said the change comes from more accurate mapping as a result of new infrared flight data.

California Wildfires
Flames shoot from a window as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The U.S. Forest Service says winds were predicted to shift Thursday to the southwest, which could produce increased fire behavior and smoke.

FULL COVERAGE: Northern California Wildfires

On Thursday, the Butte County health officer said the county would temporarily allow indoor restaurant operations because of the smoke from the fires. Once air quality improves, restaurants would be required to resume outdoor operations only.

On Wednesday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea confirmed that three people were found dead and at least a dozen were missing in connection with the Bear Fire. Honea said two of the victims were found in one location while the third was found in a second location.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that a CHP officer confirmed the third fire victim was found late Wednesday morning near a car in the area of Bald Rock Road and Graystone Lane near Berry Creek. The individual was fleeing the fire, the officer said.

Honea, who became a daily news conference fixture during the deadly Camp Fire, became emotional Wednesday night when announcing the news of the dead and missing.

"This is the part of the presentation I've been dreading," said Honea. "It brings back memories of when I stood before you back in 2018 to talk about the people who lost their lives during the Camp Fire."

Honea added that Butte County unfortunately has become far too familiar with the destruction and deaths large fires can cause.

Added Cal Fire Butte County Chief John Massina, "Our situation over the last 36 hours has been dangerous, it's been deadly, its been extremely destructive. "

Among the latest damage reported was to the mountain community of Berry Creek which was nearly destroyed by flames, while nearby Camp Okizu - a long-time beloved Sierra retreat for children suffering from cancer - had significant damage.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office said it received 85 missing person reports or requests for welfare checks in the area affected by the fire. So far, Honea said deputies have safely located 73 individuals.

The quickly advancing wall of flames from the Bear Fire roared along Highway 162 early Wednesday morning, setting homes ablaze in Bear Creek and along Bald Creek Road, forcing residents to frantically escape with only the clothes on their backs and a few cherished belongings in the predawn darkness.

California Wildfires
A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

On Wednesday, Alameda County Fire announced that units that had been working the CZU Lightning Complex fires were now moving north to lend overwhelmed firefighters a hand with the North Complex Fire.

Due to unprecedented and historic fire conditions throughout the state, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region has closed all eighteen National Forests in California, including the Plumas National Forest.

More information on the fire can be found on the state's incident information system website.

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