1 new death, 2 remain missing in North Complex Fire; favorable weather conditions impeding fire’s spread


Cal Fire map of North Complex Fire, Sept. 13

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea confirmed one new death on Monday, bringing the North Complex Fire death toll to 15.

News items from Monday’s community briefing included:

  • Butte County has received 182 welfare calls; 165 people have been located, 2 are unaccounted for and 15 are confirmed dead
  • 2 new arrests have been made after individuals were found illegally entering evacuated areas 
  • Expected higher winds predicted by officials did not occur today. The red flag warning will end at 8 p.m.
  • Berry Creek Elementary and Feather Falls Elementary public schools have been destroyed in the fire
  • The West Zone of the fire has burned 76,900 acres with 20% containment. The entire North Complex Fire has burned over 264,500 acres with 39% containment
  • Acreage burned in California since Aug. 15 lowered to 3.2 million
  • 28 major fires or complexes remain burning in California
  • A shelter hotline has been set up for individuals to call if they have been evacuated and need assistance finding temporary shelter. The phone number is 530-552-6150

A call center for evacuees is in the process of being set up, Honea said. Residents from the most affected areas will be prioritized for scheduling visits to their properties accompanied by law enforcement

“Although we hope that we can get this program up and running by next week, firefighters, utility companies, they’re still working to make sure some of these areas are safe,” Honea said. “As a result of that, you may request to go to an area that it’s not safe to go to — and we wouldn’t be able to accommodate that request.” 

Honea also reported two new arrests since Sunday for illegal entry of evacuated areas.

“I hope that people understand that we’re serious when we tell you that if you shouldn’t be in that area, or if you’re going to go in that area and engage in illegal activity — we’re going to do our utmost to capture you and hold you fully accountable under the law,” said Honea.

Mary Sakuma, Butte County superintendent of Schools, confirmed Monday that both Berry Creek and Feather Falls Elementary schools have been destroyed in the fire, displacing many students and faculty. 

“We have experienced a devastating fire before, but we have learned from our past,” Sakuma said. “We’re prepared for the present and we know that no matter how many times we face the flames, we will rise together from the ashes to build our future. We are Butte school strong.”

Dan Borsum, an incident meteorologist, predicts that similar weather patterns will continue going into Tuesday and Wednesday, aiding firefighting efforts. 

“The main question the meteorologists in the region are asking is why did the winds not emerge today as expected,” Borsum said. “We launched a weather balloon from the command post here in Chico to help us get a detailed picture of the atmosphere over Butte County. From that balloon launch we were able to see that there was a layer of warmer air 4,000 feet above the air, which prevented the higher winds from aloft from making it to our area.”

Air quality will improve overnight as smoke clears from the atmosphere. Warmer temperatures and sunshine will continue.

In coordination with the state and the American Red Cross, non-congregate sheltering is being provided in and around Butte County to nearly 1,000 residents.

“The temporary evacuation point is that — it is temporary,” said Shelby Boston, director of the Department of Employment and Social Services and Care and Shelter Chief. “As we continue to see repopulation increase and fire activity decrease we will be closing the temporary evacuation point.  We are currently continuing to process requests for assistance and residents are receiving that assistance in a very timely manner now.”

Boston confirmed that 20 evacuation teams and two veterinary teams have delivered over 4,000 pounds of feed to animals currently sheltering in place. An animal shelter has also been set up at 521 Cal Oak Road after Del Oro animal shelter reached full capacity. Camelot Equestrian Park is also sheltering large animals that have been evacuated. 

Matthew Wreden and Chloe Curtis can be reached at [email protected] or @bymattwreden and @ChloeCurtis__ on Twitter.