SANTA ROSA, CA (CBSMiami) – The wildfires in Northern California are now the deadliest in the state’s modern history.
There have been 31 deaths so far. Search teams and cadaver dogs began the recovery of victims from “hot zones.” Authorities say some remains are so beyond recognition, they will use serial numbers on medical implants, like hip replacements, to i.d. victims.
“Some of them are merely ashes and bones and we may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes, cremated you can’t get ID,” said Somoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano.
In Somoma County, about 400 people are still unaccounted for, nearly 200-thousand acres have burned, and more than 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed.
Fire investigators are now looking at the possibility that downed power lines sparked the massive wildfires that continue to burn.
Though firefighters have made some modest progress, the fires have grown and now cover more than 300 square miles, an area as large as New York City.
In addition to dry, windy weather making the flames hard to contain, fire crews have been working non-stop and are exhausted.
“They’ve been up for a couple of days. They’re working their tails off. They’re doing some unbelievable work under some tough conditions,” said Berkley police spokesman Andrew Frankel.
An estimated 25-thousand people have been forced to evacuate. Ally May put a sprinkler on her roof before heading out, hoping that’ll help keep the flames at bay.
“We just wet down everything and all of our neighbor’s stuff that we could reach with our hoses,” she said.
Friday’s forecast calls for more windy, dry air which threatens to feed the fires even further.
Officials in Sonoma County are facing some criticism for not warning residents via a messaging system that would’ve sent a massive alert, reaching cell phones in most of the region. Some people say they were caught off-guard by advancing fires with very little warning. Officials say using the blanket alert system would have notified too many people who weren’t in danger which in turn could’ve caused mass panic — clogging roads and slowing first responders.