Wildfires began tearing through northern California Oct. 8. Since then at least 40 people have died, including 22 in Sonoma County, where San ta Rosa is located. Fires blazed through parts of Santa Rosa ear lier this week, reducing neighborhoods to ash and twisted metal. The fires have been taking advantage of the wind and dry conditions, moving fast and ruthlessly. Flames have been shifting without much notice and destroying thousands of structures. They spread so fast the first night that many residents and first responders were caught off-guard.
As of Sunday, roughly 75,000 people were under evacuation orders, down from nearly 100,000 the day before. That day, the Sonoma County sheriff’s office said the county would start assessing evacuated areas, which was a first step toward al lowing people back home.
More than 200 people have been reported missing, though officials said they believe they will locate most alive. Most of the deceased are predicted to have died late on Oct. 8 or early Oct. 9, when the blazes exploded and took people by surprise in the middle of the night. Most of the victims were elderly citizens.
According to Cal Fire, the outbreak of wildfires has be come one of the deadliest in the state history. On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown called the wildfires “one of the greatest, if not the greatest, tragedy California has ever faced.”
Seventeen large fires still burn across the northern part of California, with more than 10,000 firefighters fighting with air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.
Devilish winds of up to 45 mph brought the fires to new towns, forcing an influx of people to evacuate. The huge fires have sent smoke and ash over San Francisco, about 50 miles away, and over some towns and cities further south. At least 13 Napa Valley wineries were destroyed along with millions of dollars worth of wine.
Hellish stories have emerged of desperate attempts to escape. The Shephard family awoke in the middle of the night to near by hills burning. The Shepherds and their two kids quickly evacuated their house in a remote area of Redwood Valley. The fire advanced so quickly that they could not make it down their mile-long driveway before the flames closed in. They abandoned their car and fled on foot, scattershot, unsure where to go. The Shepherds’ son, Kai—a shy 14-year-old who liked sports and playing the saxophone— died. The rest of the family is seriously injured and still hospitalized.
Many of the deceased were so engulfed by the fire that their bodies consequently were reduced to ash and bones. In some cases, authorities have been left to use dental records, finger prints, tattoos and serial numbers on hip implants to identify victims.
“This will be without a doubt the most complicated identification process this area has ever seen,” said Jim Wood. Wood, who now represents the area in the State Assembly, also helped identify victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cadaver dogs and searchers have been going through what was left of a mobile home park in Santa Rosa, where 2,800 residences were destroyed earlier this week.
“We start with the bedroom because this fire occurred at night; we think a lot of people were in their bedrooms,” Spencer Crum, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, told CNN affiliate KOVR in Sacramento.
Despite the grim loses left be hind from the wildfires, California firefighters, police and first responders have been working tirelessly to contain the fires and help the affected communities. Let us remember to give thanks to those in public service, risk ing their lives for the wellbeing of the community.