Grim hunt for bodies af­ter Cal­i­for­nia fires

Of­fi­cials con­firmed at least 29 deaths, with 3,500 homes and busi­nesses de­stroyed

Toronto Star - - WORLD - ELLEN KNICKMEYER AND JO­CE­LYN GECKER THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

SONOMA, CALIF.— Search-and-res­cue teams — some with ca­daver dogs — started look­ing for bodies Thurs­day in parts of Cal­i­for­nia that were dev­as­tated by wild­fires, an in­di­ca­tion that more dead were al­most sure to emerge from the charred ru­ins of com­mu­ni­ties con­sumed by flames.

At least 29 peo­ple have died and at least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed by the blazes, which were well on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

At an af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence, Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano told re­porters that a 15th per­son was found dead in his county as search crews and ca­daver dogs be­gan sift­ing through de­bris for the first time Thurs­day.

Later Thurs­day, of­fi­cials con­firmed the dis­cov­ery of four more bodies. Of the 29 deaths in to­tal, 15 were in Sonoma County, eight were in Men­do­cino County, four were in Yuba County and two were in Napa County, ac­cord­ing to Sonoma County, Cal Fire and Yuba County of­fi­cials.

The searches can take hours, and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion will be dif­fi­cult, Gior­dano said at the briefing.

“So far, in the re­cov­er­ies, we have found bodies that were al­most com­pletely in­tact and bodies that were noth­ing more than ash and bone,” he said, not­ing that in the lat­ter cases, some­times the only way to iden­tify some­one is through a med­i­cal de­vice, like a metal hip re­place­ment, that has an ID num­ber.

“We will do ev­ery­thing in our power to lo­cate all the miss­ing per­sons, and I prom­ise you we will han­dle the re­mains with care and get them re­turned to their loved ones,” he said.

It could be weeks or even months be­fore all the bodies are iden­ti­fied, he added. Asked whether he ex­pected the death toll to rise, Gior­dano said, “I’d be un­re­al­is­tic if I didn’t.”

Winds up to 70 km/h were ex­pected Thurs­day in ar­eas north of San Fran­cisco, and stronger, more er­ratic gusts were fore­cast for Fri­day. Those con­di­tions could erase mod­est gains made by fire­fight­ers.

“We are not out of this emer­gency. We are not even close to be­ing out of this emer­gency,” emer­gency op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci told a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day.

JIM WIL­SON/THE NEW YORK TIMES

The fe­ro­cious fires that started Sun­day lev­elled en­tire neigh­bour­hoods in parts of Sonoma and Napa coun­ties.

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