Woman who searched for days learns that her mother was killed in wild­fire

Manteca Bulletin - - State -

SANTA ROSA (AP) — A fran­tic Jes­sica Tu­nis had been call­ing hos­pi­tals and post­ing on so­cial me­dia when her fam­ily’s search ended up back at the charred ru­ins of her mother’s Santa Rosa house on Wednesday, look­ing for clues in the de­bris as to where she might be.

Linda Tu­nis had last called Jes­sica from her burn­ing house at Jour­ney’s End mo­bile home park early Mon­day, say­ing “I’m going to die” be­fore the phone went dead. Her home was de­stroyed in wild­fires that swept North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try.

“She’s spunky, she’s sweet, she loves bingo and she loves the beach, she loves her fam­ily,” said Jes­sica Tu­nis, crying. “Please help me find her. I need her back. I don’t want to lose my mom.”

Hours later Tu­nis texted an AP re­porter to say that her brother, Robert, had found her mother’s re­mains among the de­bris. Au­thor­i­ties put the re­mains of the 69-year-old woman in a small white plas­tic bag and strapped it to a gur­ney be­fore tak­ing it away.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple re­mained un­ac­counted for Wednesday as friends and rel­a­tives des­per­ately checked hos­pi­tals and shel­ters and pleaded on so­cial me­dia for help find­ing loved ones miss­ing amid Cal­i­for­nia’s wild­fires.

As of Wednesday, 22 wild­fires were burn­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, up from 17 the day be­fore. The blazes killed at least 23 peo­ple and de­stroyed an es­ti­mated 3,500 homes and busi­nesses, many of them in Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try.

How many peo­ple were miss­ing was un­clear, and of­fi­cials said the lists could in­clude du­pli­cated names and peo­ple who are safe but haven’t told any­one, whether be­cause of the gen­eral con­fu­sion or be­cause cell­phone ser­vice is out across wide ar­eas.

“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.

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

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano put the num­ber of peo­ple un­ac­counted for in the hard-hit county at 285 and said of­fi­cers were start­ing lim­ited searches in the “cold zones” they could reach.

“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, many peo­ple 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.

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