Fires set grim record

Dead­li­est wild­fires in state his­tory claim 31 lives

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Front Page - By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

SONOMA — Teams with ca­daver dogs be­gan a grim search Thurs­day for more dead in parts of Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try dev­as­tated by wild­fires, re­sort­ing in some cases to se­rial num­bers stamped on med­i­cal im­plants to iden­tify re­mains that turned up in the ru­ins.

New deaths con­firmed Thurs­day took the toll to 31, mak­ing this the dead­li­est week of wild­fires in state his­tory.

Many of the flames still burned out of con­trol, and the fires grew to more than 300 square miles, an area as large as New York City.

Sonoma and Napa coun­ties en­dured a fourth day of chok­ing smoke while many res­i­dents fled to shel­ters or camped out on beaches to await word on their homes and loved ones.

A fore­cast for gusty winds and dry air threat­ened to fan the fires fur­ther.

Some of the state’s most his­toric tourist sites, in­clud­ing Sonoma city and Cal­is­toga in Napa Val­ley, were ghost towns pop­u­lated only by fire crews.

Cal­is­toga, known for wine tast­ings and hot springs, had dozens of fire­fight­ers staged at street cor­ners. Ash rained down from the sky and a thick haze cov­ered the ground. Mayor Chris Can­ning warned that the fires were draw­ing closer and all of the city’s 5,000 res­i­dents needed to heed an evac­u­a­tion or­der.

“This is a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion. Your pres­ence in Cal­is­toga is not wel­come if you are not a first re­spon­der,” Can­ning said dur­ing a news briefing, ex­plain­ing that fire­fight­ers needed to fo­cus on the blazes and had no time to save peo­ple.

A few res­i­dents left be­hind cook­ies for fire crews with signs read­ing, “Please save our home!”

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

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

Some re­mains have been iden­ti­fied us­ing med­i­cal de­vices un­cov­ered in the scorched ru­ins. Metal im­plants, such as ar­ti­fi­cial hips, have ID num­bers that helped put names to vic­tims, he said.

The eight new deaths con­firmed

Thurs­day brought the to­tal to 31. Most of the fires, and the deaths, were in the coastal re­gion north of San Fran­cisco. Four deaths came from Yuba County.

While the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 killed 25 peo­ple by it­self and the Grif­fith Park fire

in Los An­ge­les in 1933 killed 29, never in recorded state his­tory have so many peo­ple been killed by a si­mul­ta­ne­ous se­ries of fires, said Daniel Ber­lant, a deputy di­rec­tor with the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

BRIAN VAN DER BRUG/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Neil Thol­lan­der, left, and Jen­nifer Hawks, right, ap­ply water and earth to a big Dou­glas fir tree stump, prob­a­bly logged in the 1950s, near Cal­is­toga on Thurs­day.

MAR­CUS YAM/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Aerial view of the dam­age caused by a fire that de­stroyed the Cof­fey Park neigh­bor­hood in Santa Rosa on Wed­nes­day.

LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY BRIAN VAN DER BRUG

Above left: Roses grow near singed grape vines at the de­stroyed He­lena View John­ston Vine­yards near Cal­is­toga on Thurs­day. Above right: Davis Zamora, a Su­garpine camp crew 3 mem­ber, douses water on a hot spot near Cal­is­toga on Wed­nes­day.

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