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Damage toll from California wildfire rises to 68 homes destroyed

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A fire burning in rural Northern California has destroyed 68 homes, more than double what was previously thought, a new assessment by fire officials showed on Thursday.

A day earlier, authorities said that the burned body of a 56-year-old man was found in one of the homes blackened by the blaze. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Witesman said the man likely stayed in his home to protect it from the blaze but that the cause of his death was still under investigation.

The so-called Clover fire, which is 65 percent contained and has burned through roughly 8,000 acres, consumed the homes in remote Shasta County, along with 128 outbuildings, within eight hours of erupting on Monday, Witesman said.

Fire officials initially reported destruction of 30 dwellings and 50 outbuildings, but a recount showed the fire had charred many more homes before it moved away from populated areas into open land, Witesman said.

"It takes time for them to try to get it accurate, and then to confirm things," Witesman said.

The fire is one of dozens of wildfires that have spread across the drought-parched U.S. West in recent months, straining national firefighting resources.

Some 300 homes remain threatened and evacuated due to the fire, and about 100 residences in the area were without electricity after 200 power poles were burned in the fire, Witesman said.

"We're still working very hard to put it out and to get folks back into the area," he said, adding that a spike in humidity and a drop in temperatures will help the firefight through the end of the week.

Firefighters have shoveled and bulldozed containment lines around the entire fire, burning on mostly hilly and rocky terrain, but it was unknown if the lines will hold, Witesman said. Fire officials expect to fully contain the blaze by September 15.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)

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