With California wildfires raging, Arizona is sending fire engines and firefighters to help under a mutual-aid compact between the neighboring states.
There were 22 wildfires burning in several counties on Thursday, Oct. 12, and 26 people have reportedly been killed. Thousands of structures have been destroyed.
At least 280 square miles have burned, forcing the evacuation of 20,000 residents, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs said the 55 engines and 150 firefighters being sent will be used to protect structures against fires in the Santa Rosa and Napa areas.
Department spokeswoman Tiffany Davila says the Arizona engines and personnel are being sent by Arizona Forestry and local agencies.
Among them are four firefighters from Mayer, who left for California Thursday in a brush-fighting fire engine, said Interim Fire Chief Mike McGhee. They’re expected to work a 14-day schedule before returning.
Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light said his department had received a request for assistance, but had to decline because the manpower is needed at home.
Search for bodies begins
Search-and-rescue teams, some with cadaver dogs, started looking for bodies Thursday in parts of California wine country devastated by wildfires, authorities said, sounding a warning that more dead were almost sure to emerge from the charred ruins.
More than two dozen have died and some 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the blazes, which were well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history.
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said officials were still investigating hundreds of reports of missing people and that recovery teams would soon begin conducting “targeted searches” for specific residents at their last known addresses.
“We have found bodies almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” the sheriff said.
Some remains have been identified using medical devices that turned up in the scorched heaps that were once homes.
“There have been IDs in this case, in a pile of ash and bone, where there was a piece of metal left from somebody’s surgery, like a hip replacement, with an ID number that helped us identify the person,” he said.
Winds up to 45 mph were expected Thursday in areas north of San Francisco and stronger, more erratic wind gusts were forecast for Friday. Those conditions could erase modest gains made by firefighters.
“We are not out of this emergency. We are not even close to being out of this emergency,” Emergency Operations Director Mark Ghilarducci told a news conference Thursday.
More than 8,000 firefighters were battling the blazes and more manpower and equipment was pouring in from across the country and from as far as Australia and Canada, officials said.
The ferocious fires that started Sunday leveled entire neighborhoods in parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. In anticipation of the next round of flames, entire cities evacuated, leaving their streets empty, with the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.
Fire officials are investigating downed power lines and other utility equipment failures as possible causes of the fires, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Janet Upton. She said it’s unclear if downed power lines and live wires resulted from fires or started them.
Jennifer Robison of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. says the utility is focused on restoring power and maintaining safety. She says they will not speculate about the causes of the fires.
An estimated 25,000 people have been driven from their homes by the flames, officials said. A few left behind cookies for firefighters and signs reading, “Please save our home!”
In Calistoga, a historic resort town known for wine tastings and hot springs, 5,300 people were under evacuation orders.
As the wildfires raged for a fourth day, they have continued to grow in size and cross county lines. A total count of 22 fires on Wednesday changed to 21 on Thursday because two large fires had merged together, said state Fire Chief Ken Pimlott.
Many burned out of control, spanning more than 304 square miles, an area that if taken together was equivalent to the size of New York City’s five boroughs.
Strategic attacks that have curbed destruction and death tolls in recent years have not worked against the ferocity of the blazes.
Officials say fire crews have some progress on the deadliest fire in Sonoma County, bringing containment to 10 percent.