Res­cuers search for bodies in fire-rav­aged North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELLEN KNICKMEYER AND JO­CE­LYN GECKER

SONOMA, CALIF. | 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 that 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,” Sher­iff Gior­dano 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, the sher­iff said.

Winds up to 45 mph 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!”

There was a to­tal count of 22 fires on Wed­nes­day and 21 on Thurs­day.

Many burned out of con­trol. The flames spanned more than 300 square miles, an area equiv­a­lent to the size of New York City’s five bor­oughs.

Fire crews re­ported some progress on a blaze burn­ing in Napa and Sonoma coun­ties, the heart of wine coun­try, bring­ing con­tain­ment to 10 per­cent.

The ash rained down on Sonoma Val­ley, cover­ing wind­shields, as winds picked up. Count­less emer­gency ve­hi­cles hur­ried to­ward the flames, sirens blar­ing, as evac­uees sped away af­ter jam­ming posses­sions into their cars and filling their gas tanks.

He­li­copters and air tankers as­sisted thou­sands of fire­fight­ers who were try­ing to beat back the flames. Un­til now, the ef­forts have fo­cused lives and safety rather than ex­tin­guish­ing the blazes, partly be­cause the flames were shift­ing with the wind and tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties with­out warn­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Cal Fire forester Kim Sone in­spects dam­age by fires in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia, on Thurs­day. Gust­ing winds and dry air fore­cast could drive the next wave of wild­fires that are on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

A he­li­copter draws water from a pond to help put out a fire. More than 8,000 fire­fight­ers were bat­tling the blazes and more as­sis­tance has been pour­ing in as well.

A burned out car lies among the charred re­mains of a home. At least 27 peo­ple have died. Some 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed.

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