Search teams look for bodies in wine country
Fires out of control as death count rises
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.
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.