Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires make search­ing for miss­ing tough

Manteca Bulletin - - Local -

SANTA ROSA (AP) — Searches for the miss­ing amid Cal­i­for­nia’s storm of wild­fires have been marked mostly by con­fu­sion.

Even es­tab­lish­ing a de­cent es­ti­mate of the un­ac­counted-for has proved too dif­fi­cult, with au­thor­i­ties cit­ing wildly dis­parate fig­ures within a sin­gle day Wednesday, though all were in the hun­dreds.

Some of the miss­ing are only strug­gling to reach loved ones be­cause of com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems. Oth­ers have been counted twice, in­flat­ing the num­bers.

“We get calls and peo­ple search­ing for lost folks and they’re not lost, they’re just stay­ing with some­body and we don’t know where it is,” said Napa County Su­per­vi­sor Brad Wa­genknecht.

But au­thor­i­ties say oth­ers will al­most cer­tainly be added to the death toll, now at 23.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said his in­ves­ti­ga­tors were be­gin­ning to work the miss­ing­per­sons cases one at a time, but they’re lim­ited to look­ing in the “cold zones” they could reach.

With many fires still rag­ing out of con­trol, au­thor­i­ties said lo­cat­ing the miss­ing was not their top pri­or­ity.

“We can only get so many places and we have only so many peo­ple to work on so many things,” he said. “When you are work­ing on evac­u­a­tions, those are our first pri­or­ity in re­sources.”

As a re­sult, friends and rel­a­tives turned to so­cial me­dia, post­ing pleas such as “Look­ing for my Grandpa Robert,” ‘’We are look­ing for our mother Norma” or “I can’t find my mom.” It is an in­creas­ingly fa­mil­iar prac­tice that was seen after Hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria and the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre.

Frances Dinkel­spiel, a jour­nal­ist in Berke­ley, turned to so­cial me­dia for help find­ing her step­brother Jim Con­ley after tweet­ing au­thor­i­ties and get­ting lit­tle help. But it was a round of tele­phone calls that ul­ti­mately led her to him.

A Santa Rosa hos­pi­tal ini­tially said it had no record of him, but when the fam­ily tried again, it was told he had been trans­ferred else­where with se­ri­ous burns.

It was a frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Dinkel­spiel said, but “I’m glad he’s in a hos­pi­tal and isn’t ly­ing in­jured on the side of the road.”

Dozens of names are on a dry erase board at the Fin­ley Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Santa Rosa, which the Red Cross had turned into an evac­u­a­tion cen­ter with dor­mi­to­ries, cold show­ers and three meals a day. Dozens of evac­uees hung about, wait­ing for word for when they could re­turn to their homes.

Deb­bie Short, an evac­uee stay­ing at the Fin­ley Cen­ter, was a good ex­am­ple of a per­son listed as miss­ing who was not. She was walk­ing past the dry erase board when she no­ticed her name on the board, likely be­cause a friend had been look­ing for her.

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