Fam­i­lies search for loved ones af­ter fires

The Arizona Republic - - The West - PAUL ELIAS

SANTA ROSA, Calif. Hun­dreds of peo­ple are still listed as miss­ing four days af­ter wild­fires ig­nited and zipped through Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try, and the search for them has been marked by con­fu­sion and re­sponses that dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally by area.

Au­thor­i­ties in hard-hit Sonoma County are search­ing for those re­ported miss­ing by fam­ily and friends, but many of them live in fire zones that can’t be ac­cessed as the flames rage largely out of con­trol.

The wild­fires rip­ping through North­ern Cal­i­for­nia have killed more than two dozen peo­ple and burned thou­sands of homes and busi­nesses.

About 400 peo­ple are listed as miss­ing, Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said Thurs­day, although those num­bers may in­clude du­pli­cates or peo­ple who are ac­tu­ally safe. His depart­ment has more than 20 de­tec­tives and other per­son­nel work­ing most of each day to in­ves­ti­gate the re­ports.

He also has held sev­eral press con­fer­ences a day to up­date the num­bers of re­ported miss­ing.

Napa County Sher­iff John Robert­son, on the other hand, holds one brief­ing in the morn­ing and has told fam­ily and friends search­ing for miss­ing loved ones to reg­is­ter with a Red Cross web­site. His agency isn’t search­ing for those on the list of miss­ing.

With au­thor­i­ties fo­cused on get­ting peo­ple out of the way of flames much of this week, friends and rel­a­tives des­per­ate for news turned to so­cial me­dia for help and checked shel­ters and hos­pi­tals in per­son. Others wor­ried from afar.

A Utah woman is puz­zled that it ap­pears her mother safely evac­u­ated her Santa Rosa house on Tues­day but has not been heard from since. Sher­iff’s deputies on Wed­nes­day vis­ited the home of Norma Zarr, 61, find­ing no dam­age and her 12-yearold sil­ver Honda CRV gone.

“I don’t know if she’s un­der a rock or if she’s OK,” Char­lene Bau­munk Allen said. “This is a try­ing time.”

Jean­nette Scrog­gins, on the other hand, re­ceived the worst news pos­si­ble. Sher­iff’s deputies found the body of her aunt Karen Ay­cock, 54, on Thurs­day.

Ay­cock’s fam­ily has been look­ing for her since Mon­day when her home in Santa Rosa was de­stroyed, Scrog­gins said. Deputies pre­vented fam­ily mem­bers from search­ing Ay­cock’s house be­cause of the fire dan­ger.

Scrog­gins says her aunt lived with seven to 10 cats and her body was found near a bath­room in the back of the home.

“This is so ter­ri­ble,” she said.

Others found loved ones safe. Fam­ily and friends could not reach Rick and Les­lie How­ell for a day, a com­mon oc­cur­rence amid the chaos and lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. They don’t own mo­bile phones and both fled with lit­tle no­tice ahead of flames that de­stroyed their Santa Rosa home.

They were found Wed­nes­day af­ter flee­ing the day be­fore.

Frances Dinkel­spiel, a jour­nal­ist in Berke­ley, turned to so­cial me­dia for help find­ing her step­brother, Jim Con­ley, af­ter tweet­ing at au­thor­i­ties and get­ting lit­tle help. But it was a round of tele­phone calls that ul­ti­mately led her to him.

A Santa Rosa hospi­tal ini­tially said it had no record of him, but when the fam­ily tried again, they were told he had been trans­ferred else­where with se­ri­ous burns.

It was a frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Dinkel­spiel said, but “I’m glad he’s in a hospi­tal and isn’t ly­ing in­jured on the side of the road.”

Sev­eral dozen names were on a dry-erase board at the Fin­ley Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Santa Rosa, which the Red Cross had turned into an evac­u­a­tion cen­ter with dor­mi­to­ries, cold show­ers and three meals a day. Dozens of evacuees hung about, wait­ing for word for when they could re­turn to their homes.

Deb­bie Short, an evac­uee stay­ing at the Fin­ley Cen­ter, had been listed as miss­ing. She was walk­ing past the dry-erase board when she no­ticed her name on it, likely be­cause a friend had been look­ing for her.

A Red Cross vol­un­teer erased her name.

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