(Editor’s Note: Please be advised this story contains details that may upset some readers)
By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - Searchers looking for the remains of victims of the wildfire that destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise said some bodies may never be found because of the intensity of the blaze.
Officials had recovered the remains of 77 people as of Sunday night following the state’s deadliest and most destructive blaze in and around the mountain community 80 miles (130 km) north of the state capital, Sacramento.
Almost 1,000 people were missing after the fire, which destroyed 10,364 homes.
“We have been told we’re to look as hard as we can, but it’s still possible we may not be able to find something left of someone,” said Trish Moutard, a volunteer with the California Rescue Dog Association, who may undertake a second deployment to Paradise on Tuesday with her dog IC.
“If the fire stayed long enough and burned hot enough, the bones could, at a minimum, be fragmented down to such a small amount that we couldn’t see them, and it’s possible that even the dogs might not be able to detect them.”
Authorities have been urging residents to look at the missing persons list so they can remove people now known to be safe or whose names are duplicated, said Miranda Bowersox, a spokeswoman for the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
The list nearly doubled in five days as emergency workers and police submitted the names of people reported missing to them, said Bowersox.
Missing lists swelled to over 2,000 after disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Michael, which came ashore in Florida in the past two years. Relatives and friends were unable to immediately contact loved ones as mobile networks went down and therefore reported them to police as missing.
The lists shrank dramatically in the following weeks as people informed authorities they were safe, with the final death tolls for the hurricanes standing at 52 and 60, respectively.
Many of those unaccounted for after the Paradise fire are elderly. One is 101. The town of about 27,000 people was popular with retirees and most of the deceased victims identified by age have been over 60.
“We do have hopes that as time goes by, the number (of missing) will go down,” said Bowersox. “I can’t say for sure that’s going to happen.”
Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester; Editing by Peter Cooney