Searchers look for bodies in Cal­i­for­nia’s charred ru­ins

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

SONOMA » Search-and-res­cue teams, some with ca­daver dogs, started look­ing for bodies Thurs­day in parts of Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try dev­as­tated by wild­fires, an in­di­ca­tion that more dead were al­most sure to emerge from the charred ru­ins of com­mu­ni­ties con­sumed by the flames.

At least 27 peo­ple have died and at least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed by the blazes, which could be­come the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said of­fi­cials were still in­ves­ti­gat­ing hun­dreds of re­ports of miss­ing peo­ple and that re­cov­ery teams would soon be­gin con­duct­ing “tar­geted searches” for spe­cific res­i­dents at their last known ad­dresses.

“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 iden­ti­fied us­ing med­i­cal de­vices that turned up in the scorched heaps that were once homes. Metal im­plants, such as ar­ti­fi­cial hips, have ID num­bers that helped iden­tify the per­son, he said.

Winds up to 45 mph (72 kph) were ex­pected Thurs­day in ar­eas north of San Fran­cisco, and stronger, more er­ratic gusts were fore­cast for Fri­day. Those con­di­tions could erase mod­est gains made by fire­fight­ers.

“We are not out of this emer­gency. We are not even close to be­ing out of this emer­gency,” Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci told a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day.

More than 8,000 fire­fight­ers were bat­tling the blazes, and more man­power and equip­ment was pour­ing in from across the coun­try and from as far as Aus­tralia and Canada, of­fi­cials said.

The fe­ro­cious fires that started Sun­day lev­eled en­tire neigh­bor­hoods in parts of Sonoma and Napa coun­ties. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the next round of flames, en­tire cities evac­u­ated, leav­ing their streets empty, the only mo­tion com­ing from ashes fall­ing like snowflakes.

Fire of­fi­cials are 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 the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

An es­ti­mated 25,000 peo­ple have been driven from their homes by the flames, in­clud­ing the en­tire com­mu­nity of Cal­is­toga, a his­toric re­sort town known for wine tast­ings and hot springs with a pop­u­la­tion of 5,300. A few res­i­dents left be­hind cook­ies for fire­fight­ers with signs read­ing, “Please save our home!”

JEFF CHIU — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A burned out car lies among the charred re­mains of a home de­stroyed by wild­fires in Santa Rosa Thurs­day.

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