The fires tearing through Northern California have claimed at least 28 lives, with 14 deaths reported in Sonoma County alone, according to officials.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano provided an update on the death toll in his jurisdiction during a press conference Thursday that was livestreamed via Facebook.
“We are moving into a recovery phase,” Giordano said, describing efforts to search for missing persons and, in some cases, recovering their bodies.
Thirty detectives and 10 search and rescue workers are currently handling 900 missing persons reports. Of those, 437 people have been accounted for and are safe. Another 463 people are still missing, although Giordano noted that in many situations it has been a communication issue. Cell service has been a problem in the area, he said.
Another 10 search and rescue workers from another jurisdiction may soon join the effort. Cadaver dogs have also been brought in to help find bodies.
“We’re doing targeted searches,” he said. “Teams of people are going out looking for a very specific person based on a missing person case to a very specific place. That’s how the majority of the recoveries have been handled so far.”
In terms of identification of the deceased, Giordano cautioned that it “is going to be hard.” He continued, “So far in the recoveries we have found bodies that have been almost completely intact and we found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones. ”
In some cases, authorities have been able to identify the deceased through medical devices.
The fires have destroyed thousands of buildings and have forced people forced to evacuate. Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties have been the hardest hit areas. A number of wineries have also burned down.