‘Bodies just ashes’
As firefighters continued battling 22 wildfires across California wine country for a fourth day, search-and-rescue teams with cadaver dogs on Thursday started looking for bodies as the death toll hit 31, the highest in state history.
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said officials were still investigating hundreds of reports of missing people and that the recovery teams would soon begin conducting “targeted searches.”
“We have found bodies almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” said the sheriff of the hard-hit county, where 15 people have lost their lives.
Some remains were identified by remains of medical procedures.
“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,” Giordano said.
At least 436 people were still missing.
About 170,000 acres — roughly 265 square miles — have been torched by the flames, which destroyed some 3,500 homes and businesses, officials said.
The causes remained under investigation, although officials were looking into the possibility that power lines downed by high winds sparked some of the blazes.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Janet Upton said it was unclear if the live wires resulted from blazes or sparked them.
Tens of thousands of people have evacuated their homes and filled dozens of shelters. Many did not know whether loved ones were alive or whether their homes were spared.
Some 8,000 firefighters who have been battling the conflagrations since Sunday caught a bit of a break on Thursday as the socalled Diablo wind, which had been predicted to further spread flames didn’t materialize.
The National Weather Service said calmer winds were expected to last through Friday, giving firefighters a chance to tame the blazes that have raged mostly uncontrolled.
“These fires are a long way from being contained,” Sonoma County spokesman Barry Dugan said.
The deadliest blaze, Sonoma’s Tubbs fire, grew to about 6,000 acres overnight before conditions began to improve.
“We will do everything in our power to locate all the missing people,” Giordano said. “I promise you: We will handle the remains with care and get them to their loved ones.”
SHOCKING: Burned-out cars remain amid the devastation Thursday in Northern California, where wind-driven wildfires have wreaked havoc.