Northern California fire death toll at 29
PARADISE, California (AP):
The dead were found in burned-out cars, in the smouldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could jump in behind the wheel and escape. In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner's investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them.
At least 29 people were confirmed dead in the wildfire that turned the Northern California town of Paradise and outlying areas into hell on earth, equalling the deadliest blaze in state history, and the search for bodies continued Monday.
Nearly 230 people were unaccounted for by the sheriff's reckoning, four days after the fire swept over the town of 27,000 and practically wiped it off the map, with flames so fierce that they melted metal off cars. The dead were so badly burned that authorities brought in a mobile DNA lab and consulted forensic anthropologists for help in identifying them.
Increasingly exhausted and dispirited, friends and relatives of the missing checked hospitals, police, shelters and the coroner's office in hopes of learning what became of their loved ones.
Tad Teays, who fled Paradise ahead of the fire, waited for word of his 90-year-old dementia-stricken mother, who lived about a mile from him in town.
"By the time I evacuated and tried to get to her house, that area was already engulfed by fire," he said. "I don't know where she is. We've called shelters, been to shelters, filed a couple of missing-persons reports"
Megan James of Newfoundland, Canada, searched via Twitter from the other side of the continent for information about her aunt and uncle, whose house in Paradise burned down and whose vehicles were still there. On Monday, she asked on Twitter for someone to take over the posts, saying she is "so emotionally and mentally exhausted.
"I need to sleep and cry," James added. "Just PRAY. Please."
Some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by the blaze were allowed to return, and authorities reopened US 101, a major freeway through the fire zone in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Malibu celebrities and mobile-home dwellers in nearby mountains were slowly learning whether their homes had been spared or reduced to ash.