31 dead in Cal­i­for­nia fires

Hun­dreds still sought as blazes wreak havoc

Daily Dispatch - - World News -

THE death toll from rag­ing Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires rose to 31 yes­ter­day 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 last Sun­day, have swept through Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try, leav­ing thou­sands of peo­ple home­less and burn­ing over 76 000ha of land.

Gust­ing 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 err Cal­i­for­nia fire chief Ken Pim­lott said.

“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.

Sher­iff Rob Gior­dano of hard­hit Sonoma County said his de­part­ment has re­ceived about 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 might be smaller be­cause there were some­times du­pli­cate re­ports.

He said tar­geted body re­cov­ery ef­forts had be­gun in cases where all other leads were ex­haust

“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 con­tin­ued 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 iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on ashes,” he said.

In cases in which bod­ies have been badly burned, au­thor­i­ties have had to 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.

En­tire neigh­bour­hoods 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. — AFP

Pic­ture: AFP

FIRE’S AF­TER­MATH: Home­owner Phil Rush looks at the re­mains of his home de­stroyed by wild­fire in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia. Rush said he and his wife and dog es­caped with only their med­i­ca­tion and a bag of dog food when flames over­took their en­tire neigh­bour­hood

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