Crews Comb Through Ashes In Search Of Missing People

SONOMA (KPIX5) — Crews are working to find those who went missing in the Northern California wildfires.

The work is as grim as it is treacherous. It involves combing through ashes looking for any signs of missing loved ones.

The work is daunting and the flames often leave behind only tiny clues that are easy to miss.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Thompson said, “Very small pieces of bone, maybe a vertebrae, or a 3-inch piece of a long bone. But very little is being left behind due to the heat.”

On Monday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team were looking for a woman in her 60s.

After scouring all the local shelters and hospitals, the investigation has led to the Hopper Lane apartments in Santa Rosa, where they think she may have died in her home.

It’s meticulous, specialized work. The crew digs through the debris on their hands and knees.

Thompson said, “We’re starting in high probability areas within the home. That’s been bedrooms, bathrooms, entryways, vehicles that may be still in the garage.”

But the cadaver dogs didn’t find anything.

A neighbor said that he banged on the woman’s door and got her out.

And so, relatively speaking, it’s a bit of good news: the woman may still be alive somewhere.

If you got evacuated, the sheriff’s office says don’t keep quiet about it.

Thompson said, “So please, make yourself known, make yourself visible, get noticed by your friends and family, and if you are on our missing person’s list, we can cross you off and move on to the next case.”

But omeowner Wayne Sims has been watching the search for the missing from his front yard.

Sims stayed behind and helped CalFire crews save his home, and half a dozen of his neighbors’ homes.

“I must have a guardian angel,” Sims said when asked how he survived.

“I really feel bad for everybody’s losses around me. I was absolutely lucky for what I have still standing here. But I couldn’t have done it without CalFire. Those guys are the real heroes,” Sims said.

Crews are trying to get through their list of missing people before rains come later in the week.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is asking people to consider using social media to get the word out to friends and family that they’re okay.

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