Santa Rosa (United States) (AFP) – Body recovery teams with cadaver dogs were searching Thursday for victims of California’s wildfires as reinforcements arrived to help exhausted firefighters battle some of the worst infernos the state has ever seen.
The death toll rose to 27 meanwhile from the wildfires, which began on Sunday and have left thousands of people homeless. Authorities said they expect it to rise further.
Gusty winds on Thursday were hampering the efforts of the 8,000 firefighters battling 21 blazes which have burned 191,437 acres (77,500 hectares), and weather conditions were not forecast to improve.
“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.
“We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe,” he said.
Sheriff Rob Giordano of hard-hit Sonoma County said his department has received 1,000 reports of missing persons, but about 600 of them have been found safe so far.
“Those are big numbers,” he said, but “sometimes we get duplicates of people.
“So in those 1,000 reports someone could be reported more than once,” he said. “And a lot of it is communications issues — cellphone towers are down, people don’t have their chargers with them.”
He said targeted body recovery efforts had begun in cases where all other leads were exhausted.
“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.
“We have found bodies that were completely intact and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” he said.
Fifteen deaths have been reported in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, two in Yuba County and two in Napa County.
Asked if he expected the death toll to rise, Giordano replied: “I’d be…