Fri | Dec 14, 2018

California fire victims come into focus as search ramps up

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Butte County Search and Rescue worker Noelle Francis, left, and search dog Spinner look through the ashes for survivors and remains after a wildfire ravaged the area, at Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in Paradise, California, Monday, November 12.

PARADISE, California (AP):

Ernest Foss was a musician who gave lessons out of his home when he lived in San Francisco, where an amplifier that ran the length of a wall served as the family's living room couch. Carl Wiley refurbished tires for Michelin. Jesus Fernandez was known as "Zeus."

They were among the first victims identified in the aftermath of the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history, an inferno blamed for at least 42 deaths, with authorities ramping up the search Tuesday for still more souls.

The flames all but obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise, population 27,000, and ravaged surrounding areas last Thursday. The exact number of missing was unclear, but many friends and relatives of those living in the fire zone said they hadn't heard from loved ones.

Efforts were under way to bring in mobile morgues, cadaver dogs, a rapid DNA analysis system for identifying victims, and an additional 150 search-and-rescue personnel on top of 13 teams already looking for remains - a grim indication that the death toll would almost surely rise.

As of midday Tuesday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea's office had identified four of the dead.

James Wiley said sheriff's deputies informed him that his father, Carl, was among the dead, but the younger Wiley hadn't been able to leave his property in the fire area to see for himself. The elder Wiley, 77, was a tire-recapper, and the family lived in Alaska for many years before moving to Butte County decades ago.

James Wiley said his father was a stoic veteran, and the two had not spoken in six years. "Hey, I lost him a long time ago," the younger man said.

Foss, 63, moved to Paradise eight years ago because the high cost of living pushed him out of the San Francisco Bay Area, according to his daughter, Angela Loo. He had swollen limbs and couldn't walk. He had also been on oxygen.

Loo told KTVU-TV in Oakland that her father taught music out of their home in San Francisco and turned the living room into a studio.

"I love that he shared his gift of music with me and so many others during his lifetime," she said. "He would want to be remembered for being a San Franciscan through and through."

Fernandez, a 48-year-old Concow resident, died along with his beloved dog, King.

Five days after the blaze, over 1,000 people were at more than a half-dozen shelters set up for evacuees.