North Bay Wildfires Day 6: Searchers find more bodies at Santa Rosa mobile home park

Sonoma County officials are seen at the Journey's End mobile home park in Santa Rosa, Calif. on Friday, October 13, 2013. (KGO-TV)

Conditions in the North Bay are changing rapidly -- here is a look at the latest information on the deadly North Bay fires:

7:45 p.m.

A sixth day of desperate firefighting in California wine country brought a glimmer of hope Friday as crews battling the flames reported their first progress toward containing the massive blazes, and hundreds more firefighters poured in to join the effort.

The scale of the disaster also became clearer as authorities said the fires had chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. The death toll rose to 36, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.

"The emergency is not over, and we continue to work at it, but we are seeing some great progress," said the state's emergency operations director, Mark Ghilarducci.

Over the past 24 hours, crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from as far away as Canada and Australia.

Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the blazes have reduced entire neighborhoods to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.

Individual fires including a 1991 blaze in the hills around Oakland killed more people than any one of the current blazes, but no collection of simultaneous fires in California ever led to so many deaths, authorities said.

People remained on edge, worried about the wind shifting fires in their direction, said Will Deeths, a Sonoma middle school principal helping to supervise volunteers at Sonoma Valley High School, now an evacuation shelter.

"In the afternoons we start looking up at the flag pole and we start looking to see, is the wind blowing? Is the flag moving?" he said. "It's been really crazy."

Video was released of body camera footage on the first night of the fire, showing an unnamed deputy braving wild flames and thick smoke to clear out a community already being devoured by the flames.

"Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" the Sonoma County deputy yells to drivers who are hesitating and moving slowly as they flee.

The deputy, wheezing and coughing, runs to several doors shouting "sheriff's office!" for anyone who may be in earshot.

He then comes across another deputy with a woman in a wheelchair right next to a house that is burning and lifts her into an SUV to take her away.

On Friday dozens of search-and-rescue personnel at a mobile home park in Santa Rosa, also in Sonoma County, carried out the grim task Friday of searching for remains. Fire tore through Santa Rosa early Monday, leaving only a brief window for residents to flee, and decimated the park, which was known as Journey's End and was home to hundreds of people.

Workers were looking for two missing people who lived at the park. They found one set of remains, mostly bone fragments, and continued looking for the other, said Sonoma County Sgt. Spencer Crum.

To help in the search, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office near San Francisco sent specialized equipment, including drones with three-dimensional cameras and five dogs trained to sniff out human remains.

Authorities have said that some victims were so badly burned they were identified only by metal surgical implants found in the ashes that have ID numbers on them.

The influx of outside help offered critical relief to firefighters who have been working with little rest since the blazes started.

"It's like pulling teeth to get firefighters and law enforcement to disengage from what they are doing out there," CalFire's Napa chief Barry Biermann said. "They are truly passionate about what they are doing to help the public, but resources are coming in. That's why you are seeing the progress we're making."

In addition to manpower, equipment deliveries have poured in. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.

Two of the largest fires in Napa and Sonoma counties were at least 25 percent contained by Friday, which marked "significant progress," said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But he cautioned that crews would face more gusty winds, low humidity and higher temperatures. Those conditions were expected to take hold later Friday and persist into the weekend.

Smoke from the blazes hung thick over the grape-growing region and drifted south to the San Francisco Bay Area. Face masks were becoming a regular accessory, and sunsets turned blood-red from the haze.

"It's acrid now," said Wayne Petersen in Sonoma. "I'm wearing the mask because I've been here two or three days now. I live here. It's starting to really affect my breathing and lungs."

Fire officials were investigating whether downed power lines or other utility failures could have sparked the fires, but they say they are far from determining how the blazes began.

4 p.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shares plummeted 10.5 percent after state regulators directed the company to preserve any evidence of failed poles, conductors or other equipment that might be connected to Northern California wildfires that killed 32 people and reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble.

The steep one-day fall Friday means the value of the giant utility, or market capitalization, dropped about $3.5 billion, from $33.1 billion to $29.6 billion.

California fire officials are investigating downed power lines and other utility equipment as possible causes of massive wildfires that have destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses.

The California Public Utilities Commission also directed the utility to tell employees and contractors to preserve emails and other documents related to potential causes of the fires.

3:45 p.m.

Fire officials say about 5,700 homes and buildings have been destroyed by wildfires burning in Northern California.

California Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant gave the new number Friday afternoon for the damage done since Sunday night by more than 20 wildfires burning mostly in the state's wine country.

The figure is up 2,200 from the 3,500 destroyed homes and buildings previously announced.

The blazes have also driven 90,000 people from their homes and killed 32 people.

2:30 p.m.

California officials say it will be weeks before they determine the causes of the wildfires sweeping the state.

Ken Pimlott, the state's fire chief, said Friday that 20 investigators alone are in Sonoma County looking into the cause and origin.

He says the process is very technical and painstaking, and investigators won't have information to disclose for "weeks to come."

Part of the problem is that much of the evidence was consumed in the fires. That means investigators must look for other clues to decide what happened.

They are not yet ready to say whether any were caused by downed or sparking power lines from the strong, gusty winds that plagued the state overnight Sunday into Monday.

2:20 p.m.

California fire officials say wildfires across the state have chased about 90,000 people from their homes.

The evacuation figure was released Friday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

CalFire says the majority of evacuations were for communities affected by fires in wine country north of San Francisco. Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the blazes have killed 32 people and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

2:00 p.m.

Deputies have arrested a man suspected of looting in an evacuation area of Sonoma County, the county hardest hit by wildfires burning in Northern California.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says deputies arrested Morgan Plumere, of Sonoma, on Thursday after he was spotted stealing sunglasses from a car in an evacuation area.

The office says deputies who searched him found the sunglasses, items that had been reported stolen from a local vineyard and an emergency fire shelter taken from firefighters.

Plumere was arrested for looting, possession of stolen property, possession of drug paraphernalia, Possession of prescription medications without a prescription and violation of probation.

Sonoma County prosecutors warned Friday every case of looting will be prosecuted.

1:20 p.m.

Authorities say they have found another body in Sonoma County, raising the death toll to 32 and making this the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Friday that 30 detectives continue to work on finding missing people and that his office has more than 200 pending reports of missing people.

Dozens of search and rescue personnel are on site at a mobile home park in Santa Rosa, California, searching for residents who didn't make it out before fire swept through.

Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 people, was one of the hardest-hit communities during the wildfires that ignited Sunday night.

At least 9,000 firefighters from across the state and the country are attacking the flames.

12:35 p.m.

Dozens of search and rescue personnel are on site at a mobile home park in Santa Rosa, California, with the grim task of searching for residents who didn't make it out before fire swept through.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Thompson says officers recovered bone fragments from one person Friday morning. He says there's a "high probability" they'll find more.

Officials believe there may be two or three more bodies in the leveled remains of the mobile home park.

Thompson calls it "very tedious work." A crew of men and women in white suits are standing by.

Fire tore through the Santa Rosa area early Monday, leaving only a short window for people to try to escape from the flames.


12:30 p.m.

Fire officials say thousands of firefighters have poured into California in the last 24 hours and that more than 9,000 are now fighting several major blazes.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott says the additional crews helped make gains overnight.

He says that two of the biggest blazes burning in Sonoma and Napa Counties are now at least 25 percent contained.

Pimlott says dangerous fire weather is forecast for this weekend and that additional fire crews and equipment will be ready to deploy should new fires ignite.

Blazes burning across eight counties have killed 31 people since Sunday and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.


7:20 a.m.

Firefighters gained some ground on a blaze burning in the heart of California's wine country but face another tough day ahead with low humidity and high winds expected to return.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean says a blaze burning in Sonoma and Napa counties is 22 percent contained Friday.

Thousands of firefighters are battling 21 wildfires spanning more than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) and more crews are pouring in to help.

McLean tells Oakland television station KTVU that the blazes grew little overnight thanks to favorable weather but warns gusty winds and higher temperatures are forecast Friday.

Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the blazes have killed 31 people and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.


7:20 a.m.

Pope Francis says he's praying for all those who have lost loved ones or are searching for them in the wildfires devastating California.

Francis sent a telegram of condolence Friday to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez.

In it, he offered his "heartfelt solidarity and his prayers for all those affected by this disaster."

He also encouraged emergency personnel who are helping out. In the telegram, signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Francis said he was particularly keeping in his prayers "those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still missing."


12:05 a.m.

Northern California communities have been battered from wildfires that are nowhere near over.

They're trying to save or recover what's left of their homes, find lost loved ones or mourn their dead, with the constant threat of the fires still looming.

The death toll climbed to 31 on Thursday, making it the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

Hundreds more are injured or missing.

In areas where they were able, cadaver dogs were sniffing through the ashes.

A total of 21 fires spanning at least 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) are burning, most of them less than 10 percent contained.

Evacuees fled to friends' houses, shelters and even beaches.

Related Topics:
firefighterscal firefirewildfireNorth Bay Firessonoma countynapa countyNapaSanta Rosa
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