By Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Kristine Phillips, Joel Achenbach, and Herman Wong
12 October 2017

SANTA ROSA, California (The Washington Post) – The winds fanning wildfires in Northern California’s wine-country have calmed, for now, giving firefighters a badly needed break from the “red flag” conditions that have made this menacing arc of flames so deadly and destructive.

But for localities facing relentless fires and a mounting death toll that has already reached historically grim heights, any reprieve appears remote.

As the destruction entered its fifth day, officials focused their efforts on finding the missing and the dead. Authorities continue to search for the hundreds of people who remain unaccounted for, using cadaver dogs to sniff through scorched rubble.

Twenty-nine people have died, more than half of them in Sonoma County alone. The infernos burning across the region are now the state’s deadliest wildfires on record, their collective death toll equaling the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles that killed 29 people.

“We’ve found bodies that were almost completely intact; we’ve found bodies that are nothing more than ashes and bones,” Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said at a news conference Thursday.

In some cases, bodies were only identified through ID cards or the serial number of medical devices found nearby. […]

About 1,000 people have been reported missing in Sonoma County, of whom 400 remained unaccounted for as of Thursday afternoon. Giordano said search and rescue teams go to specific houses, if it’s safe, to find missing persons only after they’ve exhausted other ways to contact them. […]

This photo taken from Hawk Hill on 9 October 2017 shows smog from the Northern California wildfires hanging over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Michael Hanrahan

The 21 fires currently burning across the northern part of the state have destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and torched more than 191,000 acres — a collective area nearly the size of New York City.

It is, the state’s fire chief said, “a serious, critical, catastrophic event.” […]

For Capt. Greg McCollum of the Santa Rosa Fire Department, the sheer size and power of the Tubbs Fire has humbled him after 24 years on the job.

“This is a once-in-a-career fire,” he said. “One of the other guys said it’s a once-in-two-careers fire. Well, I’m no historian, but I know a damn big fire when I see one.” [more]

The catastrophic toll of California's wildfires: 29 dead, hundreds missing, thousands displaced

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