FIREFIGHTERS SEARCHING FOR BODIES
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.