Search teams look for bodies in wine coun­try

Fires out of con­trol as death count rises

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - National - By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

SONOMA, Calif. — 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 charred ru­ins.

New deaths con­firmed Thurs­day took the toll to 31, mak­ing this the dead­li­est week of wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia 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 try­ing to stop the ad­vanc­ing in­fer­nos.

Cal­is­toga, known for wine tast­ings and hot springs, had dozens of fire­fight­ers staged at street cor­ners. Mayor Chris Can­ning warned 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,” Mr. Can­ning said dur­ing a news briefing.

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 peo­ple been killed by a si­mul­ta­ne­ous iden­ti­fied us­ing med­i­cal de­vices se­ries of fires, un­cov­ered in the said Daniel Ber­lant, a deputy scorched heaps that were di­rec­tor with the Cal­i­for­nia once homes. Metal im­plants, Depart­ment of Forestry and such as ar­ti­fi­cial Fire Pro­tec­tion. hips, have ID num­bers that “We are not out of this helped put names to vic­tims, emer­gency. We are not even he said. close to be­ing out of this

The eight new deaths emer­gency,” Emer­gency con­firmed Thurs­day Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Mark brought the to­tal to 31. Most Ghi­lar­ducci told a news of the fires, and the deaths, con­fer­ence. were in the coastal re­gion Since ig­nit­ing Sun­day in north of San Fran­cisco that spots across eight coun­ties, en­com­passes wine coun­try. the fires have trans­formed Four deaths came far­ther many neigh­bor­hoods into in­land in Yuba County. waste­lands. At least 3,500

While the Oakland Hills homes and busi­nesses have fire of 1991 killed 25 peo­ple by been de­stroyed and an es­ti­mated it­self and the Grif­fith Park 25,000 peo­ple forced fire in Los An­ge­les in 1933 to flee. killed 29, never in recorded The wild­fires con­tin­ued state his­tory have so many to grow in size. A to­tal count of 22 fires on Wed­nes­day fell to 21 on Thurs­day be­cause two large fires merged, said state fire Chief Ken Pim­lott.

The chal­lenge of fight­ing the fires was com­pounded by the need for more help and the grow­ing fa­tigue of fire­fight­ers who have been work­ing for days.

“We have peo­ple that have been on that fire for three days who don’t want to leave,” said Cal Fire’s deputy in­ci­dent com­man­der in Napa, Barry Bier­mann. “At some point, you hit a road block.”

Fire of­fi­cials were in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether downed power lines or other util­ity fail­ures could have sparked the fires. It’s un­clear if downed lines and live wires re­sulted from the fires or started them, said Janet Up­ton, a spokes­woman for Cal Fire.

Hun­dreds of evac­uees fled to beaches far to the north of the fires, some sleep­ing on the sand on the first night of the blazes.

Since then, au­thor­i­ties have brought tents and sleep­ing bags and opened pub­lic build­ings and restau­rants to house peo­ple seek­ing refuge in the coastal com­mu­nity of Bodega Bay.

Peo­ple went to Costco to buy sup­plies for the flee­ing fam­i­lies. Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol Of­fi­cer Quintin Shawk took rel­a­tives and other evac­uees into his home and of­fice.

“It’s like a refugee camp,” at his of­fice, Of­fi­cer Shawk said.

Eric Risberg/As­so­ci­ated Press

The San Fran­cisco sky­line is ob­scured by smoke and haze from wild­fires Thurs­day in this view from Sausal­ito, Calif. Gust­ing winds and dry air could drive the next wave of fires that are al­ready well on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

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