Aerial aftermath of deadly wildfire in Butte County

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At least 63 people are now dead from a Northern California wildfire, and officials say they have a missing persons list with 631 names on it in an ever-evolving accounting of the victims of the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century.

Authorities are blaming the high death toll and widespread destruction on the lightning-fast speed of the flames, which were driven by high winds through the parched land.

Almost 8,700 homes have been destroyed and 15,500 buildings threatened, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said on Thursday.

What was left was a ghostly, smoky expanse of empty lots covered in ash and strewn with twisted wreckage and debris.

The California fire department (Cal Fire) said early on Thursday that the "Camp Fire" has destroyed 140,000 acres (56,655 hectares) and was 40 percent contained.

In explaining the massive jump in the number of missing, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters that investigators raised the number after reviewing emergency calls made after the fire broke out last week.

Several people who were listed as missing have been located, bring the total of people found alive to 227. Three people have also died in the "Woolsey Fire" in Southern California. Scientists largely attribute the devastating blazes to climate change which has caused a prolonged drought in the state.

President Trump is scheduled to travel to the Golden State on Saturday to visit victims of fires in both the northern and southern ends of the state.

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Air quality across large swaths of California remains so poor due to huge plumes of smoke that schools from Sacramento to the Pacific Coast were closed on Friday, and San Francisco's iconic open-air cable cars were pulled off the streets.

Those who survived the flames but lost homes were moving in temporarily with friends or relatives or bunking down in American Red Cross shelters. Evacuees are asked to check the boards to see if their names appear.

Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. There were portable toilets, and some people used the Walmart restrooms.

Nicole and Eric Montague, along with their 16-year-old daughter, showed up for free food but have been living with extended family in the neighboring city of Chico, in a one-bedroom apartment filled with 15 people and nine dogs.

Honea said that while recovery efforts remain hard, increased resources have helped "bring more order to the chaos that we're dealing with".

"You have to understand, folks: This is a dynamic list", Honea said.

Kaksonen couldn't remember how long she had been there, but said it felt like forever.