Death toll rises to 24 in Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires

Cecil Whig - - OBITUARIES & REGIONAL - Los An­ge­les Times

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — As weary fire crews be­gan to make progress against a firestorm that has killed at least 24 peo­ple in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try, lo­cal of­fi­cials said Thurs­day that they have be­gun a grim search for more bodies amid the ashes of burned com­mu­ni­ties.

At a morn­ing news con­fer­ence, Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano told re­porters that a 14th per­son was found dead in his county as search crews and ca­daver dogs be­gan sift­ing through de­bris for the first time Thurs­day.

“We’re mov­ing into a re­cov­ery phase,” Gior­dano said.

Gior­dano’s depart­ment has re­ceived 900 re­ports of miss­ing peo­ple. Of those, 437 peo­ple have been lo­cated and are safe.

At the same time Thurs­day, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials ex­pressed op­ti­mism that milder-than-ex­pected winds and ad­di­tional fire­fight­ing crews from across Cal­i­for­nia were al­low­ing them to make progress against the worst of the fires.

“We need to hit this thing hard and get it done,” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tom Goss­ner told hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers bat­tling the dev­as­tat­ing Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. “It’s time to fin­ish this thing.”

Fire au­thor­i­ties had feared that 40 mph winds pre­dicted for early Thurs­day morn­ing would fur­ther stoke flames and carry em­bers to res­i­den­tial ar­eas that had so far es­caped fire.

But those winds never ma­te­ri­al­ized in the vicin­ity of Cal­is­toga, where manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders had forced 5,000 res­i­dents from their homes that af­ter­noon. Cal Fire spokesman Richard Cor­dova said the lull al­lowed crews to es­tab­lish 10 per­cent con­tain­ment around the 34,200-acre Tubbs fire.

Crews also man­aged to start a con­tain­ment line for the 43,000-acre At­las fire _ good news for Napa res­i­dents who were warned Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that they might have to evac­u­ate east­ern sec­tions of town clos­est to the fire.

“Ad­di­tional re­sources are start­ing to give us the up­per hand,” said Cal Fire deputy in­ci­dent com­man­der Barry Bier­mann in Napa.

De­spite con­tin­u­ing red flag con­di­tions, fore­casts called for cooler day­time tem­per­a­tures and rel­a­tively light winds Thurs­day. Fire au­thor­i­ties were pre­dict­ing a gen­er­ally pro­duc­tive day.

While that fore­cast may give fire­fight­ers hope, tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents through­out the re­gion were still reel­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion.

Be­neath chok­ing smoke­filled skies that made the morn­ing sun ap­pear deep or­ange, up­scale neigh­bor­hoods on the north­ern edges of Santa Rosa were in ashes, along with gas sta­tions, big box stores and vine­yards. Charm­ing coun­try towns of lit­tle more than a few an­tique shops, the post of­fice and a gro­cery store re­mained emp­tied by evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

Road clo­sures are turn­ing rou­tine drives into long, cir­cuitous routes across a land­scape with fires burn­ing and col­umns of smoke ris­ing in al­most ev­ery di­rec­tion.

“It may be sev­eral days or more than a week be­fore peo­ple who’ve been dis­placed can start the process of heal­ing and re­build­ing,” said Cal Fire spokesman Richard Cor­dova. “That can­not hap­pen un­til we re­move all the haz­ards out there: downed power lines, top­pled trees, smol­der­ing hot spots and power out­ages.”

Thou­sands of peo­ple forced from their homes re­main gath­ered in Red Cross shel­ters, and some of them still don’t know whether they have a home to re­turn to.

Through­out the re­gion, ma­jor high­ways and coun­try lanes were packed with PG&E trucks ag­gres­sively work­ing to re­store com­mu­ni­ca­tions by re­pair­ing downed power lines and re­plac­ing de­stroyed tele­phone poles.

The weaker winds also aided fire­fight­ers on the 9,500-acre Par­trick fire, but the dan­ger of its push­ing into Sonoma and Vineb­urg re­mained Thurs­day.

MAR­CUS YAM / LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES/TNS

A man looks on as the flames lay low for the night as the cold seeps into the area, on a vine­yard in Sonoma, Calif., on Oct. 9.

SAPONARO

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