Couple who died in California fire were ready to evacuate — but stayed after 'erroneous information'

Two people found dead near their destroyed home were packed and ready to evacuate the North Complex Fire in Northern California last week but changed their minds based on erroneous information.


Two people found dead near their destroyed home were packed and ready to evacuate the North Complex Fire in Northern California last week but changed their minds based on erroneous information, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Tuesday.

Six days ago, Philip Rubel, 68, was found inside of burned-up Toyota pickup at the home and Millicent Catarncuic, 77 was found in a nearby embankment, according to the sheriff.

"After speaking to family members, it is believed the pair was aware of the fire in the area," Honea said. "They had packed their belongings in preparation to evacuate but later decided not to evacuate based on erroneous information that the fire was 51% contained."

The pair lived in Berry Creek, which has been all but decimated by the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex.

Berry Creek was under an evacuation order as of 3:15 p.m. PT last Tuesday. The information was posted on social media sites and on the fire information line, and transmitted via ham radio. Deputies also went through the area with evacuation sirens and door to door where possible, Butte County spokeswoman Megan McCann told CNN.

It is unknown where the couple saw or heard the containment figure. The number is not typically part of evacuation orders. The fire also quickly grew in the area Sept. 8.

The North Complex Fire has caused 15 fatalities, with 13 people currently unaccounted for. It has been burning for close to a month and is the eighth largest in California history, having charred 269,218 acres and burned down 706 structures, including the Berry Creek Elementary School.

22 people are missing in Oregon

Near the Beachie Creek fire east of Salem, Oregon, Scott Fogarty has no idea what happened to his longtime friend George Atiyeh. But he knows what happened to Atiyeh's property.

"His home was completely lost, and his shop," Fogarty said, holding photos of his friend.

Atiyeh is among at least 22 people missing in the Oregon wildfires, which have already killed 10 people in the state.

And authorities fear more deaths. A mobile medical examiner facility has been set up in Linn County because of wildfires in the area, said Capt. Timothy Fox, a spokesman for the Oregon State Police.

He said this is the first time a mobile morgue of that kind has ever been needed.

A nurse packs for evacuation, then goes back to work

Betty Stevens and Fred Andrews packed in the dark as the fire approached their home near Medford, Oregon. They weren't quite sure whether they should leave, but a police car went down the street urging people over the loudspeaker to leave.

They did, but Stevens went back to work at a hospital where she is a respiratory therapist in the neonatal intensive care unit. She helped evacuate young patients.

"It was better than sitting in my friend's home and thinking about what could be happening," she told CNN's Brooke Baldwin. "I was extremely concerned that the fire obviously would come to the hospital and that we'd have the adequate staff to evacuate premature babies who are dependent on oxygen."

The next day, Stevens went by the neighborhood. The homes were gone. She went to their lot. It was ashes and rubble. The creek in the backyard was dried up.

"Nothing was really recognizable," she said. "It didn't feel like my home. It just felt like just pain. It was just very painful to see."

The 36 victims include a boy and his grandmother

At least 25 people have died in the California wildfires. The Butte County Sheriff's Office has identified seven victims of the North Complex Fire, who ranged in age from 16 to 70 and died in Berry Creek.

At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said. They include 13-year-old Wyatt Tofte and his grandmother, Peggy Mosso.

And in Washington state, one child was killed, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps urged those who are evacuating to register with the American Red Cross so officials and loved ones will know they're safe.

"If you're concerned for missing family, please report that concern to the local law enforcement entity," he said.

Virtually all of Washington is covered by 'dangerous' smoke

In Washington, "virtually the entire state is covered by a cloud of smoke that's unbelievably irritating, downright unhealthy and dangerous," Inslee said.

In fact, parts of the West Coast now have the worst air quality in the world, according to the air quality monitoring group IQAir.

"We've had dozens and dozens and dozens of homes burned down, had entire towns destroyed," Inslee said.

Of the nine major wildfires burning in Washington state, the two largest — the Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires — have collectively scorched more than 412,500 acres, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

"This is such a disaster in any dimension, but a particular disaster because we had our state turned into a tinder box by climate change," Inslee said.

"We have grass now that's almost like gasoline. A spark will make it explode. We have fires that just create walls of fire 20, 30 feet high from grass and sage brush."

The grass and sage brush fires have "consumed whole towns," the governor said.

Malden, in eastern Washington, saw 80% of its buildings destroyed in a firestorm Labor Day weekend.

The blaze took out several homes and civic offices including the fire station, post office, city hall and library, the Whitman County Sheriff's Office said.