Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS - —AFP

SANTA ROSA— Body re­cov­ery teams with ca­daver dogs were search­ing on Thurs­day for vic­tims of Cal­i­for­nia’s wild­fires as re­in­force­ments ar­rived to help ex­hausted fire­fight­ers bat­tle some of the worst in­fer­nos the state has ever seen.

The death toll rose to 31 from the wild­fires, which be­gan on Sun­day and have left thou­sands of peo­ple home­less. Au­thor­i­ties said they ex­pect it to rise fur­ther.

Sher­iff Rob Gior­dano of hard-hit Sonoma County said his depart­ment had re­ceived 1,000 re­ports of miss­ing per­sons, but about 600 of them have been found safe so far.

“Those are big num­bers,” he said, but “some­times we get du­pli­cates of peo­ple.”

“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 said it was “go­ing to be a slow process” as fires con­tin­ued to burn and that iden­ti­fy­ing vic­tims would be dif­fi­cult.

Ash and bones

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

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 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.

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.

A state emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cial said au­thor­i­ties were look­ing into bring­ing in fire­fight­ers from as 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 AFP. “But this is ex­tra­or­di­nary, hav­ing that many and that large and go­ing so fast.”

‘Like a thief came in’

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had de­clared a ma­jor dis­as­ter in Cal­i­for­nia, free­ing up fed­eral fund­ing and re­sources to help fight the fires, and Gov. Jerry Brown has de­clared a state of emer­gency in eight coun­ties.

Michael Des­mond, 63, was among hun­dreds of res­i­dents of Santa Rosa’s Cof­fey Park neigh­bor­hood who lost their homes.

“I feel vi­o­lated, like a thief came in,” said Des­mond, who sobbed as he sur­veyed the rub­ble of the house where he grew up.

For­est fires are com­mon in the western United States dur­ing the sum­mer but this year’s blazes in Cal­i­for­nia were among the dead­li­est ever.

The Grif­fith Park fire in Los An­ge­les County in 1933 killed at least 29 peo­ple, and 25 peo­ple died in the 1991 Oak­land Hills fire.

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