Firefighters battle California blazes, search for victims

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More than 11,000 firefighters were battling over a dozen large wildfires in California on Monday as body recovery teams searched incinerated homes for victims of the blazes that have left 41 people dead.

California fire officials said they had made good progress fighting the fires over the weekend and a forecast of rain this week could further help their efforts.

Sheriff Rob Giordano said 88 people were still missing in Sonoma County, the county hardest-hit by the fires that began eight days ago.

“We’re hunting them down,” Giordano told reporters. “I would expect to find some of the missing in their burned homes.

“We have a list of people that we have not found who we think might be in their home and we’re trying to get to them,” he said.

Cadaver dogs have been enlisted to help recovery teams find the bodies of victims of the wind-driven fires, which bore down so swiftly that some residents had just minutes to flee their homes.

Officials have said some of the remains found so far in the rubble of gutted homes were just “ash and bone” and identification could take weeks.

Many of the victims have been elderly people in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

– 14 large fires still burning –

Sonoma County has been the worst hit, reporting half of the 41 deaths so far, and an estimated 3,000 homes were destroyed in the city of Santa Rosa alone.

Entire neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, population 175,000, the county seat, have been razed to the ground with just chimneys all that remain of many homes.

Residents have told harrowing tales of jumping into swimming pools and spending hours in cold water while fire consumed their homes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said Monday that the death toll rose to 41 when a private water tender driver died in a vehicle rollover in Napa County.

Cal Fire said 11,000 firefighters — some from as far away as Australia — were currently battling 14 large wildfires, which have burned more than 213,000 acres (86,200 hectares).

Only light winds were expected on Monday, providing hope that more progress could be made in containing the blazes, and rain was forecast for later in the week.

Evacuation orders were lifted meanwhile for several areas and Cal Fire said the number of people evacuated had dropped to 40,000 from 75,000.

A total of 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the fires, the deadliest in California’s history.

“Nothing has been this bad that I’ve ever seen in our state, the devastation, the horror, the displacement,” Governor Jerry Brown said Saturday. “It’s not over yet.”

President Donald Trump said Monday the federal government was working closely with state authorities dealing with what he called a “tragic situation.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of days,” Trump said. “But we’re a little subject to winds and what happens with nature.”

-AFP

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