California fires kill 31, deadliest in US history
The death toll from raging the US state of California wildfires rose to 31 as body recovery teams used cadaver dogs to locate victims, making it the deadliest series of blazes in the state’s history.
The fires began on Sunday, leaving thousands of people homeless and burning over 190,000 acres (76,000 hectares) of land, AFP reported on Friday.
Gusty winds hampered the efforts of the 8,000 firefighters battling 20 blazes, and weather conditions were not forecast to improve.
“What this means is that our fires will continue to burn erratically,” California fire chief Ken Pimlott told a news conference. “They have the potential to shift in any direction at any time. “We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe,” he said. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) announced that the fires have claimed 31 lives, while Sheriff Rob Giordano of hard-hit Sonoma County said his department has received around 1,100 reports of missing persons.
Of those, “745 of them, roughly, have been located safe,” while “we still have 400 outstanding,” Giordano said, noting that the actual figure may be smaller because there are sometimes duplicate reports.
He said targeted body recovery efforts had begun in cases where all other leads were exhausted.
Asked if he expected the death toll to rise, Giordano replied: “I’d be unrealistic if I didn’t.”
As recovery teams fanned out searching for fire victims, evacuation orders were issued for towns in Napa and Sonoma counties, where hundreds of people have already lost their homes to the fast-moving infernos.
The National Weather Service said wind gusts of up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour were forecast in some areas and the “critical fire weather conditions” would continue into the weekend. Pimlott said hundreds of fire engines and dozens of firefighting crews were being brought in from other states. David Shew, a veteran firefighter with Cal Fire, said the wildfires were like nothing he’s seen before.
“I’ve been with Cal Fire for 30 years and I’ve seen big fires,” said. “But this is extraordinary, having that many and that large and going so fast.”
Thousands of people have been left homeless and 25,000 people have evacuated their homes in Sonoma County alone, according to officials.
More than 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed in Sonoma and Napa counties. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in eight counties.