Costs associated with a deadly Northern California wildfire will likely be in the billions, said U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday.
Zinke, who was back in the town of Paradise on Monday, said he has never witnessed such devastation. The Camp Fire killed at least 85 and leveled thousands of homes.
“There’s a lot of things I’d rather spend this federal money on rather than repairing damage of things that have been destroyed,” he said. Zinke nodded to other public services, such as improving visitor experiences at Yosemite National Park or thinning forests.
The U.S. government has distributed more than $20 million in assistance for people displaced by the catastrophic wildfire in Northern California, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official said Monday as hundreds of searchers kept looking for more human remains.
The massive wildfire that destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in the town of Paradise and surrounding communities was fully contained over the weekend after igniting more than two weeks ago.
FEMA spokesman Frank Mansell told The Associated Press that $15.5 million has been spent on housing assistance, including vouchers for hotel rooms. During an interview in the city of Chico, he said disaster response is in an early phase but many people will eventually get longer-term housing in trailers or apartments.
FEMA also has distributed $5 million to help with other needs, including funeral expenses, he said.
About 17,000 people have registered with the federal disaster agency, which will look at insurance coverage, assets and other factors to determine how much assistance they are eligible for, Mansell said.
Meanwhile, the list of people who are unaccounted for has dropped from a high of 1,300 to the “high 200s” Monday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. He said the number of volunteers searching for the missing and dead has been reduced to about 200 Monday from 500 Sunday after many of those reported missing were found over the weekend.
“We made great progress,” Honea said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue joined Zinke on a tour of Paradise, which was decimated by the fire that ignited in the parched Sierra Nevada foothills Nov. 8 and quickly spread across 240 square miles (620 square kilometers).
Perdue suggested donating timber from the nearby Plumas National Forest to rebuild Paradise.
The firefight got a boost last week from the first significant storm to hit California this year, which dropped several inches of rain over the burn area without causing significant mudslides.