Grim search for vic­tims of wild­fires be­gins

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Ellen Knick­meyer and Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

Search teams start look­ing for bod­ies in parts of Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try dev­as­tated by wild­fires as au­thor­i­ties warn that more dead are al­most sure to emerge from the ru­ins.

SONOMA, Calif. — Search-and-res­cue teams, some with ca­daver dogs, started look­ing for bod­ies Thurs­day win parts of Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try dev­as­tated by wild­fires, au­thor­i­ties said, sound­ing a warn­ing that more dead were al­most sure to emerge from the charred ru­ins.

At least 26 peo­ple have died and some 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed by the blazes, which were well on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said of­fi­cials were still in­ves­ti­gat­ing hun­dreds of re­ports of miss­ing peo­ple and that re­cov­ery teams would soon be­gin con­duct­ing “tar­geted searches” for spe­cific res­i­dents at their last known ad­dresses.

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

Windy forecast

Some re­mains have been iden­ti­fied us­ing med­i­cal de­vices that turned up in the scorched heaps that were once homes.

“There have been IDs in this case, in a pile of ash and bone, where there was a piece of metal left from some­body’s surgery, like a hip re­place­ment, with an ID num­ber that helped us iden­tify the per­son,” he said.

Winds up to 45 mph were ex­pected Thurs­day in ar­eas north of San Fran­cisco and stronger, more er­ratic wind gusts were forecast for Fri­day. Those con­di­tions could erase mod­est gains made by fire­fight­ers. “We are not out of this emer­gency. We are not even close to be­ing out of this emer­gency,” Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Direc­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci said.

More than 8,000 fire­fight­ers were bat­tling the blazes and more man­power and equip­ment was pour­ing in from across the coun­try and from as far as Aus­tralia and Canada, of­fi­cials said.

The fe­ro­cious fires that started Sun­day lev­eled en­tire neigh­bor­hoods in parts of Sonoma and Napa coun­ties.

Fire of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing downed power lines and other util­ity equip­ment fail­ures as pos­si­ble causes of the fires, said Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion spokes­woman Janet Up­ton. She said it’s un­clear if downed power lines and live wires re­sulted from fires or started them.

Jen­nifer Ro­bi­son of Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co. says the util­ity is fo­cused on restor­ing power and will not spec­u­late about the causes of the fires.

‘Please save our home!’

An es­ti­mated 25,000 peo­ple have been driven from their homes by the flames, of­fi­cials said. A few left be­hind cook­ies for fire­fight­ers and signs read­ing, “Please save our home!”

In Cal­is­toga, a re­sort town known for wine tast­ings and hot springs, 5,300 peo­ple were un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

As the wild­fires raged for a fourth day, they have con­tin­ued to grow in size and cross county lines. A to­tal count of 22 fires on Wed­nes­day changed to 21 on Thurs­day be­cause two large fires had merged to­gether, state Fire Chief Ken Pim­lott said.

Associated Press

Todd Caughey hugs daugh­ter Ella at the ru­ins of their home.

San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle

Fire­fight­ers keep a close watch on a fire in Santa Rosa, Calif. Ef­forts have fo­cused on “life safety” rather than ex­tin­guish­ing the blazes, partly be­cause flames were shift­ing and tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties with­out warn­ing.

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