Brian Skoloff / AP Photo

Death toll climbs in N. California wildfires

Two more bodies were found in ruined California homes, bringing the toll to five from still-buring wildfires

Two more bodies were found in the burned ruins of homes in California, bringing the death toll to five from two of the most destructive wildfires in the state in recent memory.

Both wildfires continued burning Thursday, but cooler weather and rain helped firefighters gain ground on the blazes that have destroyed more than 800 homes.

Official identifications have not yet been made, but the sheriff's office said the two bodies found in Lake County were presumed to be those of Bruce Beven Burns and former San Jose Mercury News police reporter Leonard Neft.

A woman was found dead Sunday in the blaze burning about 100 miles north of San Francisco, the Valley Fire.

Shirley Burns said her 65-year-old brother-in-law might have been sleeping in his trailer and didn't realize the fire was speeding toward him on Saturday.

"It came in very fast, it was a monster," she said from her home in Lodi.

Neft's wife and daughter were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Neft's house was in the same area where Barbara McWilliams, 72, was found dead. She told her caretaker she didn't want to leave her home near Middletown and would be fine.

Cadaver-sniffing dogs found the latest bodies on Wednesday in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.

Two other bodies were found inside homes destroyed in a separate wildfire about 170 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said.

One was identified as Mark McCloud, 65, who was found Tuesday in the Mountain Ranch area.

Raggio wouldn't release the name of the other victim because the family had not been notified.

Firefighters gained ground on the massive blazes after cooler weather and rain descended on the area. California has seen about 6,000 wildfires this year — about 1,500 more than this time last year, an increase many blame on the extra-dry condition caused by the state's record-breaking drought, itself a product of climate change.

The fire in Lake County had charred 115 square miles and was 35 percent contained. An estimated 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned.

The Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties has burned 110 square miles. It was 49 percent contained after destroying 252 homes.

The Associated Press

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