California wildfire killed 31 people, hundreds missing

Smoke and flame rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Vastavam web: The death toll from raging California wildfires has risen to 31 as body recovery teams used cadaver dogs to locate victims, making it the deadliest series of blazes in the state’s history.The fires, which began on Sunday, have swept through California’s wine country, leaving thousands of people homeless and burning over 190,000 acres (76,000 hectares) of land.

“What this means is that our fires will continue to burn erratically,” California fire chief Ken Pimlott told a news conference. “They have the potential to shift in any direction at any time.The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) announced yesterday that the fires have claimed 31 lives, while Sheriff Rob Giordano of hard-hit Sonoma County said his department has received around 1,100 reports of missing persons.”We’re moving into a recovery phase,” he said. “We have cadaver dogs up here that can basically scent bodies and help us find people.”

Giordano warned that it was “going to be a slow process” as fires continue to burn, and that identifying victims would be difficult.”Some of these remains are actually intact bodies much easier to identify, much easier to get things from. Some of them are merely ashes and bones, and we may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes,” he said.The sheriff said that of the 17 people confirmed dead in Sonoma County, 10 have now been identified.

“The youngest person on this list is 57 years old. The bulk of them are in their 70s and 80s,” he said.As recovery teams fanned out searching for fire victims, evacuation orders were issued for towns in wine-producing Napa and Sonoma counties, where hundreds of people have already lost their homes to the fast-moving infernos.Entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa have been reduced to ashes, and evacuation orders were issued for additional parts of the devastated city of 175,000 people in Sonoma County.

The National Weather Service said wind gusts of up to 80 kilometers per hour were forecast in some areas and the “critical fire weather conditions” would continue into the weekend.Pimlott, the Cal Fire chief, said hundreds of fire engines and dozens of firefighting crews were being brought in from other states.A state emergency management official said the authorities were looking into bringing in firefighters from as far away as Australia.

David Shew, a veteran firefighter with Cal Fire, said the wildfires were like nothing he’s seen before.”I’ve been with Cal Fire for 30 years and I’ve seen big fires,” he told AFP. “But this is extraordinary, having that many and that large and going so fast.”More than 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, including several wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heart of the state’s extensive wine production.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in California, freeing up federal funding and resources to help fight the fires, and Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in eight counties.”I feel violated, like a thief came in,” said Desmond, who sobbed as he surveyed the rubble of the house where he grew up.Forest fires are common in the western United States during the summer but this year’s blazes in California are the deadliest series of fires to hit the state.