Wild­fire death toll ex­ceeds 20

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA -

SANTA ROSA, California — Friends and rel­a­tives des­per­ately checked hos­pi­tals and shel­ters and pleaded on so­cial me­dia for help find­ing loved ones miss­ing amid California’s wild­fires, with hun­dreds of peo­ple un­ac­counted for Wed­nes­day.

“We’ve been to 17 evac­u­a­tion cen­ters. We’ve called prob­a­bly 12 hos­pi­tals. I mean, my whole fam­ily, all my friends look­ing for her,” Jes­sica Tu­nis said as she searched for her mother, who was last heard say­ing “I’m go­ing to die” be­fore the phone at her burn­ing mo­bile home in Santa Rosa went dead.

Hours later Wed­nes­day, the daugh­ter texted a re­porter to say that the re­mains of her mother, 69-year-old Linda Tu­nis, had been found in the ru­ins of her home.

As of Wed­nes­day, 22 wild­fires were burn­ing in North­ern California, up from 17 the day be­fore. The blazes killed at least 21 peo­ple and de­stroyed an es­ti­mated 3,500 homes and busi­nesses, many of them in California wine coun­try.

How many peo­ple were miss­ing was un­clear, and of­fi­cials said the lists could in­clude du­pli­cated names and peo­ple who are safe but haven’t told any­one, whether be­cause of the gen­eral con­fu­sion or be­cause cell­phone ser­vice is out across wide ar­eas.

California Gov. Jerry Brown warns that cat­a­strophic wild­fires will keep rip­ping through the state as the cli­mate warms.

Brown told re­porters Wed­nes­day that more peo­ple are liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ties close to forests and brush that eas­ily ig­nite be­cause of dry weather. Blazes burn­ing in North­ern California have be­come some of the dead­li­est in state his­tory.

Brown says the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pledged as­sis­tance but points out re­sources also are go­ing to hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery ef­forts in Texas and Florida.

“We get calls and peo­ple search­ing for lost folks and they’re not lost, they’re just stay­ing with some­body and we don’t know where it is,” said Napa County Su­per­vi­sor Brad Wa­genknecht.

With many fires still rag­ing out of con­trol, au­thor­i­ties said lo­cat­ing the miss­ing was not their pri­or­ity.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano put the num­ber of peo­ple un­ac­counted for in the hard-hit county at 380 and said of­fi­cers were start­ing limited searches in the “cold zones” they could reach.

“We can only get so many places and we have only so many peo­ple to work on so many things,” he said. “When you are work­ing on evac­u­a­tions, those are our first pri­or­ity in re­sources.”

As a re­sult, many peo­ple turned to so­cial me­dia, post­ing pleas such as “Look­ing for my Grandpa Robert,” We are look­ing for our mother Norma” or “I can’t find my mom.” It is an in­creas­ingly fa­mil­iar prac­tice that was seen after Hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria and the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre.

A sob­bing Rachael In­gram searched shel­ters and called hos­pi­tals to try to find her friend Mike Grabow, whose home in Santa Rosa was de­stroyed.

She plas­tered so­cial me­dia with pho­tos of the bearded man as she drove up and down High­way 101 in her pickup.

Pri­vacy rules, she said, pre­vented shel­ters from re­leas­ing information.

“You can only really leave notes and just try and send es­sen­tially a mes­sage in a bot­tle,” she said.

In­gram said she hopes Grabow is sim­ply with­out a phone or cell ser­vice.

“I’ve heard sto­ries of peo­ple be­ing re­lo­cated to San Fran­cisco and Oak­land. I’m hop­ing for some­thing like that,” she said. “We’re hear­ing the worst and ex­pect­ing the best.”

(GOOGLE EARTH (RIGHT), CALIFORNIA HIGH­WAY PA­TROL GOLDEN GATE DIVISION (LEFT) VIA AP)

The Cof­fey Park neigh­bor­hood in Santa Rosa, California, was de­stroyed after wind-driven wild­fires swept through the area. The image at left, taken Mon­day, shows the dev­as­ta­tion, while the un­dated image at right shows the same area be­fore the fire.

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