With 870 still missing in Northern California fire, officials fear rains will wash away victims’ remains

27
130
With 870 still missing in Northern California fire, officials fear rains will wash away victims’ remains

The cadaver dog alerted to a corner of the charred metal frame, what probably was once the kitchen of a mobile home in Paradise, Calif. Searchers in white jumpsuits walked over, with shovels and gloves, to sift through the debris.

After about 10 minutes, they determined there were no bodies or bones in the rubble — just burned sausages.

For days, hundreds of searchers have been methodically working through the destruction left by the massive Camp fire, looking for clues that someone couldn’t escape, such as a wheelchair or a footprint. They scour places where people may have tried to protect themselves from flames: under a mattress, inside a bathtub.

So far they have discovered 81 bodies — people who died in cars and homes; people outside, probably trying to outrun the flames. But with 870 people still missing and more than 12,600 destroyed homes to comb through, their grim mission is far from over.

“We have so many souls unaccounted for, I believe that this search for remains is going to go on for a long time,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), whose district includes Paradise. “Could be weeks.”

And now, a pair of incoming storms are threatening to hamper recovery efforts. In a worst-case scenario, the downpour could flood the ruins and wash away human remains, leaving authorities unable to find and identify every victim of California’s deadliest wildfire on record. Authorities fear bones could sink underwater, making them harder to spot and drowning any scent that cadaver dogs rely on to find them.

Deborah Laughlin last heard from her son and his pregnant wife just after the couple evacuated their Magalia home. It’s been almost two weeks, and she has no idea whether they survived.

“Please don’t tell me he died,” said Laughlin, tears in her eyes, from the cafeteria of Bidwell Junior High School in Chico. “Please.”

She said she is clinging to hope that they’ll be reunited soon. The 63-year-old lost her home in Paradise. She’s afraid of the approaching storms because she knows there are still people who are missing, people who may have died in the fire.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m scared they’ll be washed away and people’s remains will never be found.”

Meteorologists say the Camp fire burn scar — which is larger than the city of San Jose — could see up to 6 inches of rain through Saturday, with the heaviest downpour expected overnight Thursday. The forecast has triggered a flash flood watch for possible rock slides and debris flows.

“That rain is going to get in that ash, it’s going to turn into it a paste-like substance,” said Monterey County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Joe Moses, who is helping in the recovery effort. “It’s going to stick to everything and slow things down.”

It’s unclear how much of the burn zone has already been searched by crews, but it’s a slow and arduous process. On Tuesday, four members of Oakland Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force lifted a charred box spring and began combing through a mixture of ash, dirt, shredded wood and pieces of roofing tiles.

“This is hard,” one of them said. “But we’re trying. Let everyone know we’re trying.”

If they find bones, they call an anthropological team to determine whether the remains belong to a human or an animal. If they conclude the remains are human, coroner’s investigators respond to conduct their own investigation.

“We’re doing a shoulder-to-shoulder search through the debris,” Moses said. “We have a very specific objective, and that objective is going to be met whether there is rain or no rain.”

Some bodies were burned so badly that they are difficult to identify.

“We’re finding remains in various states,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “I suspect there are some that will have been completely consumed.”

And despite the thorough search effort, Honea warned residents that when they return to their properties, they could still find victims.

“I know that’s a very difficult thing to think about, but that’s the difficult situation we find ourselves in today,” he said.

Already, scenes from the blaze have given Anthony Salzarulo nightmares. He said the fire was worse than any other that hit the region, including one that took his home about a decade ago.

When he was evacuating Concow, he saw dead animals. A bobcat with burns walked near him.

Now, he worries a mudslide may take out his home, which was damaged in the blaze, and it’s made him anxious.

“I hope I have a home after this storm, because it sounds like it’s a pretty bad one,” the 60-year-old said. “I was dreaming that there was a tornado, and all these things were sticking to me. They were human bones.”

For others who have yet to return to their homes, the rain is another stone in their troubled path. They would like to see what possessions, if any, remain before the mountainsides turn to slurry.

Brandy Connell, 40, worries that the rain will trigger a mudslide in her area of Magalia and that there will be nothing left to comb through at the ruins of her white mobile home.

The roof had collapsed on the home before fire ravaged its insides, and Connell hopes that collapse might have saved much of what her family of four was forced to leave behind. Perhaps the equipment used to run her business selling handmade soap, candles and shea butter survived.

Mostly, Connell has been thinking about her father’s ashes. He died from pancreatic cancer in May and had requested that his ashes be scattered in San Francisco, where he was raised. She wants to fulfill that final wish and find the small wooden box that held a good man.

“It was one of those things we didn’t think to grab,” she said.

Instead, she quickly packed mismatched clothes for herself and her two sons, Zack, 13, and Kyle, 7. She thought they would be gone only a few days. More than a week later, they are staying at a shelter at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds in Yuba City.

Zack, an eighth-grader who likes chatting up strangers, is anxious to return to Magalia. He, too, has rain on his mind.

“If the whole thing slides,” he said, “I’m giving up all hope.”

Vives and Knoll reported from Paradise, Tchekmedyian from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Joseph Serna, Howard Blume and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

27 COMMENTS

  1. I simply want to tell you that I’m newbie to weblog and definitely liked this website. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your site . You certainly come with amazing stories. Thank you for sharing your website page.

  2. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any means you can take away me from that service? Thanks!

  3. Hello I am so glad I found your blog page, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Google for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a marvelous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the superb job.

  4. There a few interesting points over time here but I don’t know if I see them all center to heart. There exists some validity but Let me take hold opinion until I look into it further. Very good post , thanks and now we want more! Included with FeedBurner at the same time

  5. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all people you really recognize what you’re speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also discuss with my website =). We will have a hyperlink exchange arrangement between us!

  6. Interesting article. It is quite unfortunate that over the last 10 years, the travel industry has already been able to to handle terrorism, SARS, tsunamis, influenza, swine flu, plus the first ever real global downturn. Through all of it the industry has proven to be robust, resilient along with dynamic, discovering new tips on how to deal with misfortune. There are generally fresh complications and opportunity to which the field must all over again adapt and behave.

  7. I perpetually visit your blog and retrieve everything you post here however I never commented however these days once I saw this post, i couldn’t stop myself from commenting here. nice mate!

  8. Thanks for your fascinating article. One other problem is that mesothelioma is generally the result of the inhalation of materials from asbestos fiber, which is a very toxic material. It truly is commonly found among laborers in the construction industry who’ve long contact with asbestos. It is caused by moving into asbestos covered buildings for long periods of time, Your age plays an important role, and some folks are more vulnerable for the risk compared to others.

  9. After study a few of the weblog posts on your website now, and I truly like your means of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site listing and might be checking back soon. Pls take a look at my web page as nicely and let me know what you think.

  10. Generally I don’t read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice post.

  11. certainly like your web-site however you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very bothersome to tell the reality on the other hand I will surely come back again.

  12. Things i have seen in terms of computer memory is the fact there are technical specs such as SDRAM, DDR and many others, that must match the features of the motherboard. If the personal computer’s motherboard is fairly current while there are no operating-system issues, changing the memory literally takes under sixty minutes. It’s one of several easiest personal computer upgrade techniques one can picture. Thanks for giving your ideas.

  13. I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve offered on your post. They are really convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for newbies. Could you please lengthen them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  14. hey there and thank you in your info – I have certainly picked up anything new from proper here. I did alternatively experience some technical issues using this web site, since I skilled to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, however sluggish loading circumstances occasions will often have an effect on your placement in google and could damage your high quality rating if ads and ***********|advertising|advertising|advertising and *********** with Adwords. Anyway I am including this RSS to my e-mail and can glance out for a lot more of your respective exciting content. Make sure you replace this again soon..

  15. Greetings! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when viewing from my iphone4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any recommendations, please share. Thank you!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here