Cal­i­for­nia fires kill 31, dead­li­est in state’s his­tory

Manila Times - - WORLD - AFP PHOTO

SANTA ROSA, United States: The death toll from rag­ing Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires rose to 31 on Thurs­day (Fri­day in Manila) as body re­cov­ery teams used ca­daver dogs to lo­cate vic­tims, mak­ing it the dead­li­est series of blazes in the state’s his­tory.

The fires, which be­gan on Sun­day, have swept through Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try, leav­ing thou­sands of peo­ple home­less and burn­ing over 190,000 acres (76,000 hectares) of land.

Gusty winds on Thurs­day were ham­per­ing 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 Thurs­day 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.

“We’re mov­ing into a re­cov­ery phase,” he said. “We have ca­daver dogs up here that can ba­si­cally scent bod­ies and help us find peo­ple.”

Gior­dano warned that it was “go­ing to be a slow process” as fires con­tinue to burn, and that iden­ti­fy­ing vic­tims would be dif­fi­cult.

“Some of these re­mains are ac­tu­ally in­tact bod­ies—much eas­ier to iden­tify, much eas­ier to get things from. Some of them are merely ashes and bones, and we may never get truly con­fir­ma­tive iden­tifi- cation­bad­lyIn cases burned,on ashes,”in which au­thor­i­tieshe said. bod­ies have have had beento use den­tal records and se­rial num­bers on med­i­cal de­vices to iden­tify the dead.

Asked if he ex­pected the death toll to rise, Gior­dano replied: “I’d be un­re­al­is­tic if I didn’t.”

The sher­iff said that of the 17 peo­ple con­firmed dead in Sonoma County, 10 have now been iden­ti­fied.

“The youngest per­son on this list is 57 years old. The bulk of them are in their 70s and 80s,” he said.

As re­cov­ery teams fanned out search­ing for fire vic­tims, evac­u­a­tion or­ders were is­sued for towns in wine-pro­duc­ing Napa and Sonoma coun­ties, where hun­dreds of peo­ple have al­ready lost their homes to the fast-mov­ing in­fer­nos.

Res­i­dents of Cal­is­toga, a re­sort town of some 5,000 peo­ple in Napa, and Gey­serville, a town of around 800 peo­ple in Sonoma, were told to leave and seek shel­ter else­where.

Risk of new fires

En­tire neigh­bor­hoods in Santa Rosa have been re­duced to ashes, and evac­u­a­tion or­ders were is­sued for ad­di­tional parts of the dev­as­tated city of 175,000 peo­ple in Sonoma County.

Cal Fire mean­while said that strong winds could spark new fires.

“These winds will con­tinue to chal­lenge fire­fight­ers in their ef­forts to­wards con­tain­ment and will in­crease the risk for new fires,” Cal Fire said.

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, the Cal Fire chief, said hun­dreds of fire en­gines and dozens of fire­fight­ing crews were be­ing brought in from other states.

“Hour by hour more re­sources pour in,” he said.

A state emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cial­into bring­ing­said the in au­thor­i­ties fire­fight­ers were from lookingas far away as Aus­tralia. 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,” he told Agence France-Presse. “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, in­clud­ing sev­eral winer­ies in Sonoma and Napa coun­ties, the heart of the state’s ex­ten­sive wine pro­duc­tion. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has de­clared a ma­jor dis­as­ter in Cal­i­for­nia, free­ing up fed­eral fund­ing and re­sources to help fight the fires, and Gov­er­nor Jerry Brown has de­clared a state of emer­gency in eight coun­ties.

STILL RAG­ING

CalFire fire­fighter Bran­don Tolp uses a drip torch dur­ing a fir­ing op­er­a­tion while bat­tling the Tubbs Fire on Thurs­day (Fri­day in Manila) near Cal­is­toga, Cal­i­for­nia.

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