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 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,” the sheriff 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, he said.
Winds up to 45 mph (72 kph) 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.