Searchers using “cadaver dogs” have found two bodies in the Mountain Ranch area of Calaveras County, the first two confirmed deaths as a result of the massive Butte fire that swept through the foothills this past week.
Mark McCloud, 66, was found dead on the hillside beneath his burned home Tuesday night on Baker Riley Way in the hills a few miles east of the town of San Andreas, according to Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio.
A second fire victim was found a few miles away in the remnants of his home in the M-24 Ranch subdivision. Officials have not released that person’s name pending notification of next of kin, Raggio said.
Both areas had been subject to evacuation orders, Raggio said. The Butte fire, which started Sept. 9, tore through Amador and Calaveras counties, destroying 233 homes, often leaving little time for residents to evacuate.
A third death from the Northern California fires occurred over the weekend. A Lake County woman, identified as Barbara McWilliams, 72, a retired schoolteacher who was disabled, was found in her burned home.
McWilliams lived in the Anderson Springs area, which was swept by the fast-moving Valley fire Saturday night. Family and friends confirmed the death. The Valley fire is believed to have destroyed as many as 1,000 homes.
Another resident of the Anderson Springs area has been reported missing.
Leonard Neft, 69, a former San Jose Mercury News reporter, last spoke on the phone to his wife, Adela, who was in Sacramento, on Saturday at about 8 p.m., as flames approached his wooded, rural neighborhood. He is one of four people listed as missing in the Valley fire, according to Lake County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Steve Brooks.
His daughter, Joslyn Neft, said Neft had gotten an automated call earlier in the day from Lake County officials advising residents of that area to evacuate, but not mandating it.
Neft told his wife initially he did not see any smoke in the neighborhood, although he could see the glow of the fire in the distance. “Around 8 p.m., he said he thought he should try to get out.”
That is the last the family has heard of him. They say officials reported they found Neft’s burned and unoccupied car on a road that runs a half-mile from his house.
Neft’s daughter said her father would have contacted the family by now if he was able. She has been in contact with Lake County officials.
“I’m just trying to stress that we need people at ground zero looking for him, (but sheriff’s officials) don’t have the manpower,” she said.
Brooks said officials said deputies were actively looking for Neft on Wednesday in the Anderson Springs area.