BUTTE COUNTY – Authorities on Monday night announced the recovery of additional human remains in the North Complex West Zone Fire and identified four of the victims.
The death toll in the wildfire now stands at 15, said Butte County Sheriff-Coroner Kory Honea at a news conference.
Honea identified two of the victims as John Butler, 79, and Sandra Butler, 75, both of Berry Creek. The couple lived on Wailaki Court.
“The family members had spoken to the Butlers during the fire,” Honea said. “The Butlers told the family members they were going to seek refuge from the fire at a pond near their residence.”
A third victim was identified as Jorge Hernandez-Juarez, 26, of Berry Creek. His remains were found at a home on Milsap Bar Road.
Honea identified the fourth victim as Philip Rubel, 68, of Berry Creek. Rubel’s remains were found inside a burned Toyota pickup truck at Graystone Lane and Coyote Road, not far from where the remains of Millicent Catarancuic, 77, of Berry Creek, were found.
“After speaking with family members, it is believed that the decedents were aware of the fire in the area,” Honea said of Rubel and Catarancuic. “They had packed their belongings in preparation to evacuate, but later decided not to evacuate based on erroneous information that the fire was 51 percent contained.
“My condolences to the family and friends of all those who have been identified,” Honea added.
Catarancuic — along with Josiah Williams, 16, and Khawar Bhatti, 58, both of Berry Creek — was previously identified. Eight individuals have yet to be identified.
Honea said the sheriff’s office has also tracked down 165 of the 182 individuals reported missing in the fire.
“As it currently stands, we only are looking for two of those individuals who have been reported to us, and we have good leads on those,” he said. “Those are down from seven last night, so good progress is being made by the detectives working on those cases.”
As of Monday evening, the North Complex West Zone fire, part of the larger North Complex Fire, had burned 76,900 acres and was 20 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The conflagration has damaged or destroyed 653 structures, including 400 residences.
According to Cal Fire, the North Complex Fire has consumed 264,565 acres and was 39 percent contained.