Experts say at least 50 additional deaths can likely be attributed to Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire, already the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, according to a local news investigation.
Officially, 86 people died as a result of the Camp Fire, centered in Butte County, which is north of Sacramento.
The additional 50 elderly and ill residents lived in homes, retirement communities and nursing facilities near the fire's epicenter, according to addresses on wrongful-death claims filed as part of a legal case against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The utility’s equipment was blamed for starting the fire.
“These are the ones who have been forgotten,” said Tammie Strong, the caretaker of a 24-year-old with muscular dystrophy who died soon after what was called a stressful evacuation from the fire, according to the Chico Enterprise-Record. “I am praying for the families still struggling. My year has been a roller coaster.”
A medical expert and a lawyer evaluated evidence in each wrongful death claim that asserted to show the person would not have died except for the fire.
Joe Earley, a lawyer representing several claims against PG&E and a survivor of the fire, called the list “the tip of the iceberg," the Enterprise-Record reported.
He said he believes elderly people with health issues who died shortly after the fire “are just as much a victim as everyone else.”
Included in the claims are a husband and wife from Paradise, Calif. -- which was devastated in the fire -- who died within months of each other, a victim who had a stroke after leaving their medication behind when fleeing the fire and a 95-year-old woman who was moved from her rehabilitation center in Paradise after a successful surgery to a center where she died soon after contracting norovirus.
The newspaper reported that more than a year after the fire victims are still dying due to complications, including smoke inhalation and emotional stress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.