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Feds have given over $20 million in aid to wildfire victims

Posted: 3:08 PM, Nov 26, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-26 23:09:25Z

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — 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 killed at least 85 people and 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. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue were scheduled to visit 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).

Nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, were wiped out.

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.

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Associated Press writer Paul Elias also contributed to this report.