Deaths mount in wine coun­try

Teams with ca­daver dogs be­gin searches


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. Man­jeet, who was in his 70s, has no car and is fairly “reclu­sive,” Nel­son said.

“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 31 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-an­dres­cue teams, some with ca­daver dogs, started look­ing for bodies Thurs­day, sound­ing a warn­ing that more dead were al­most sure to emerge from the charred ru­ins.

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.

“We have found bodies al­most com­pletely in­tact, and we have found bodies that were noth­ing more than ash and bones,” the sher­iff said.

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.


Chim­neys are all that re­main stand­ing amid a swath of burnt-out prop­er­ties in Santa Rosa, Calif., Thurs­day. At least 29 peo­ple are dead and hun­dreds re­main miss­ing af­ter wild­fires swept through North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.


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