Fire sur­vivors ag­o­nize as death toll in­creases

The Province - - NEWS | WORLD - JONATHAN COOPER, ELLEN KNICKMEYER AND JOCELYN GECKER

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — As his house filled with smoke from one of Cal­i­for­nia’s dev­as­tat­ing wine coun­try fires, Ryan Nel­son’s thoughts went to his el­derly neigh­bours.

He ran over and pounded on their doors and win­dows but wasn’t able to get their at­ten­tion. Now he fears they didn’t make it out and won­ders whether he could have done more to help.

“We’re in the mid­dle of the city, so that’s never crossed any­body’s mind here in terms of ev­ery­thing be­ing a to­tal fire loss,” Nel­son said. “That’s why I didn’t kick his door in. I just thought I’d come back to the house.”

Nel­son was in his neigh­bour­hood on Wed­nes­day go­ing through the ru­ins of his house. His neigh­bours’ home was also a to­tal loss. Nel­son knows the man only as Man­jeet and said he has never met or seen his wife, who had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

“I feel like I could’ve forced en­try into their house and pulled them out of bed or done some­thing more to help him get out,” Nel­son said.

At least 29 peo­ple have died and some 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed by the blazes, which are well on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory. Search-and-res­cue teams, some with ca­daver dogs, started look­ing for bod­ies Thurs­day.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said of­fi­cials were still in­ves­ti­gat­ing hun­dreds of re­ports of miss­ing peo­ple and that re­cov­ery teams would soon be­gin con­duct­ing “tar­geted searches” for spe­cific res­i­dents at their last known ad­dresses.

About 900 peo­ple were first re­ported miss­ing in Sonoma County, of whom about 460 re­mained un­ac­counted for as of Thurs­day morn­ing.

The fires that started Sun­day lev­elled en­tire neigh­bour­hoods in parts of Sonoma and Napa coun­ties. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the next round of flames, en­tire cities evac­u­ated, leav­ing their streets empty, with the only mo­tion com­ing from ashes fall­ing like snowflakes.

In many ar­eas, crews who also are fire vic­tims have been work­ing for days straight.

Keith Muel­heim, Mike Stor­netta and Ja­son Jones, fire­fight­ers in the town of Wind­sor in Sonoma County, es­ti­mated that they had been awake for more than 70 hours and did not eat for the first 16.

An es­ti­mated 25,000 peo­ple have been driven from their homes by the fires, of­fi­cials said.

— THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fire­fight­ers put out a hot spot from a wild­fire on Thurs­day near Cal­is­toga, Calif. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that about 25,000 peo­ple have been driven from their homes by the wild­fires.

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