‘Bodies just ashes’

New York Post - - NEWS - By YARON STEINBUCH

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.

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