US-NEWS-CALIF-WILDFIRES-1-LA

The Laguna Hotshots Crew out of the Cleveland National Forest battle the Creek Fire on Sept. 6, 2020 in Big Creek, California. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

As firefighters struggled to get a handle on multiple massive wildfires in Northern California on Saturday, a grim search was underway for survivors -- and more likely remains -- among more than a dozen people who were missing.

The true death toll from the fires likely won't be known for days, officials cautioned, as heat and flames prevented authorities from entering some areas to search.

"There are still some areas that they are looking into but they have not been able to get into due to the fire activity that's going on," said Capt. Bruno Baertschi, public information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Since the start of the year, California wildfires have burned more than 3.2 million acres, an area that's larger than the state of Connecticut, according to Cal Fire. Nineteen people have died and more than 4,000 structures have been destroyed since mid-August.

The devastation prompted an announcement from the White House that President Trump will visit California on Monday to be briefed by emergency officials.

Many of the state's dead and missing were in the area ravaged by the North Complex fire, which had burned 252,313 acres across Butte, Yuba and Plumas counties and was 21% contained as of Saturday morning.

Nine people were confirmed to have died in the burn area. They include 16-year-old Josiah Williams, who was trying to drive out of the flames, and 77-year-old Millicent Catarancuic, who decided not to evacuate, authorities said.

In addition, at least 19 people remained missing in the area.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Friday that he's requested that urban search and rescue teams be deployed to help his department scour hamlets where the fire burned.

"Right now, the areas we need to search are too hot and Cal Fire has asked us to wait to deploy those later when that is safe to be done," he said during a news briefing. "So we're going to be evaluating that deployment starting on Monday."

Deadly fires were also burning across other Western states.

In Oregon, fires had scorched more than 1 million acres and killed at least six people, including a 13-year-old boy who died in a car with his pet dog in his lap, according to an online fundraising page. Family members believe the child was trying to save his grandmother, who also died.

Officials say they're bracing for more bodies to be recovered.

"We know we're dealing with fire-related deaths and we're preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the number of structures lost," Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon's Office of Emergency Management, said Friday at a press briefing.

In Washington, fires burned more than 600,000 acres and resulted in the death of a 1-year-old boy who was fleeing the flames with his parents, authorities said.

California's North Complex fire was sparked by lightning Aug. 17 but mushroomed in size this week, forcing some 20,000 residents in Plumas, Butte and Yuba counties from their homes.

Firefighters reported no significant growth in acreage overnight into Saturday as they worked to hem the blaze in by conducting firing operations.

"We build containment lines to join parts of the fire or a fire's edge to a road or river or something like that," said Sean Collins, public information officer for California Interagency Incident Management Team 4. "And then from that we put a little bit of fire on the ground to enable it to create a buffer between that containment line or road and the main body of the fire."

About 3,282 personnel were battling the fire. Their fight was hampered by steep terrain and weather conditions that were causing the smoke to linger, preventing aircraft from dropping water on the flames, Collins said.

"The smoke is being blown back over the fire which gives poor air quality to residents and firefighters and prevents aircraft from flying," he said. "But the winds will be picking up from the west over the next couple of days, which should improve air quality and visibility."

On the fire's western flank, firefighters were scrambling to strengthen containment lines ahead of the shift in the winds, which they said could also pose problems.

"Monday is obviously going to be one of our trigger points because we are going to see a change in the weather," Baertschi said. "The smoke may lift out and we're going to get more sun and heating onto the vegetation, which could bring up fire activity."

Fire officials did not have an estimate for when the fire would be contained.

"We'll be here continuing to work on this for some time," Baertschi said.

The North Complex fire is California's deadliest so far this year and the 11th-deadliest in state history.

In addition, five deaths have been linked to the LNU Lightning Complex fire, which had burned 363,220 acres across the North Bay counties of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Colusa, Solano and Yolo and was 95% contained as of Saturday morning.

Two deaths were confirmed in the burn area of the Slater fire, which has chewed through more than 122,000 acres in Siskiyou and Del Norte counties and across the border into Oregon.

One death has been confirmed in the CZU August Lightning Complex fire, which has burned 86,509 acres and destroyed 1,490 structures in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

In Southern California, the Bobcat fire had burned a 29,245-acre swath through the Angeles National Forest and was 6% contained as of Saturday morning.

The eastern and western flanks of the fire were entering into old burn scars, which tends to reduce the rate of spread, officials said, but other areas being charred hadn't burned in 60 years. Firefighters were continuing to focus on beefing up containment lines to the south to keep the fire from spreading down into foothill communities.

The El Dorado fire near Yucaipa had burned 14,043 acres and was 39% contained as of Saturday morning. In San Diego County, the Valley fire near the Mexican border was at 17,665 acres and was 69% contained, according to Cal Fire.

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