Californians under siege try to fight fires, find loved ones

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — They are trying to find lost loved ones, to sift through the remains of lost homes, to count, identify and mourn the dozens of dead — all while the fires rage on. The communities of Northern California were preparing for another day under siege Friday, despite being driven to exhaustion by evacuations, destruction and danger amid the deadliest week of wildfires the state has ever seen. “It wears you out,” said winemaker Kristin Belair, who was driving back from Lake Tahoe to her as-yet-unburnt home in Napa. “Anybody who’s been in a natural disaster can tell you that it goes on and on. I think you just kind of do hour by hour almost.”

Santa Paula firefighter Tyler Zeller, right, hoses down a hot spot with the help of Jesse Phillips, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Firefighters from across the state have been brought in to help battle the blazers that started Sunday night. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A wildfire burning along the Highway 29 is seen through a fire truck Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. More than 8,000 firefighters are battling the blazes and additional manpower and equipment was pouring in from across the country and as far as Australia and Canada. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Firefighter David Allhiser carries a water hose to put out a fire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Firefighters watch from their fire trucks as wildfires continue to burn Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Some of the state’s most historic tourist sites, including Sonoma city and Calistoga in Napa Valley, were ghost towns populated only by fire crews trying to stop the advancing infernos. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A firefighter surveys a building destroyed by a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

On Willowview Court in Santa Rosa, Calif., a homeowner displays an American flag amidst the destruction from a wildfire, Thursday Oct. 12, 2017. Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed and thousands of people were forced to flee. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

FILE – This Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, aerial image shows homes that were destroyed by a wildfire next to a playground in Santa Rosa, Calif. With winds expected to continue blowing smoke from the fires to populated areas this weekend, many schools decided to close Friday. (Nick Giblin/DroneBase via AP, File)

Brush in a vineyard burns as it singes grapevines at the head of a wildfire in Geyserville, Calif., Thursday Oct. 12, 2017. Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed and thousands of were people forced to flee. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

A Cal Fire air taker makes a fire retardant drop on a wildfire as the pilot protects structures on the Hawkeye Ranch above Geyserville, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Crews were able to save all the structures. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

A Cal Fire air taker makes a drop on a wildfire as the pilot protects structures on the Hawkeye Ranch above Geyserville, Thursday Oct. 12, 2017. Thousands of firefighters are battling the blazes and additional manpower and equipment was pouring in from across the country and as far as Australia and Canada. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

A Cal Fire air taker makes a drop on a wildfire at sunset as the pilot protects structures on the Hawkeye Ranch above Geyserville, Calif., Thursday Oct. 12, 2017. Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Associated Press reporter Ellen Knickmeyer poses for a photo at her home in Boyes Hot Springs, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Knickmeyer wrote on life in communities under threat from California wildfires. Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

A helicopter drops water on a hill in the Oakmont area in Santa Rosa, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. A forecast for gusty winds and dry air threatened to fan the fires, which were fast becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Firefighters are lit by a headlamp as they stand outside a building destroyed by a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A helicopter flies through the smokey sky to drop a load of water on a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, aerial photo provided by George Rose shows a lush vineyard, left, next to a scorched wasteland near Vintners Inn, just north of Coffey Park, Sonoma County near Santa Rosa, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (George Rose/Georgerose.com via AP)

CORRECTS TO REMOVE REFERENCE OF WINERY – Leaves hang to a grapevine that was burned by a massive wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

An SUV passes trees covered in fire retardant as wildfires continue to burn Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A firefighter stands in the midst of thick smoke as he puts out a fire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, Calif. Officials say progress is being made in some of the largest wildfires burning in Northern California but that the death toll is almost sure to surge. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A bulldozer is used to cut a fire break as a helicopter flies over with a bucket of water to fight the flames of a massive wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A Cal Fire firefighter works on hot spots on a hill in the Oakmont area of Santa Rosa, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

A helicopter drops a load of water on a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Flames leap skyward as a wildfire burns along a ridge Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A helicopter drops a load of water on a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A helicopter drops a load of water on a wildfire Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Sonoma, Calif. Gusting winds and dry air forecast for Thursday could drive the next wave of devastating wildfires that are already on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Firefighters were on the front lines Thursday in Sonoma, California fighting to snuff out wildfire hot spots, as evacuating residents were leaving with the belongings they could carry and haul away, with fire danger still threatening the area. (Oct. 12)

Some of the California’s most historic tourist sites, including Sonoma city and Calistoga in Napa Valley, were ghost towns on Thursday as firefighters tried to stop the advancing infernos that are becoming the deadliest in the state’s history. (Oct. 12)

Firefighters were on the front lines Thursday in Sonoma, California fighting to snuff out wildfire hot spots, as evacuating residents were leaving with the belongings they could carry and haul away, with fire danger still threatening the area. (Oct. 12)

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — They are trying to find lost loved ones, to sift through the remains of lost homes, to count, identify and mourn the dozens of dead — all while the fires rage on.

The communities of Northern California were preparing for another day under siege Friday, despite being driven to exhaustion by evacuations, destruction and danger amid the deadliest week of wildfires the state has ever seen.

“It wears you out,” said winemaker Kristin Belair, who was driving back from Lake Tahoe to her as-yet-unburnt home in Napa. “Anybody who’s been in a natural disaster can tell you that it goes on and on. I think you just kind of do hour by hour almost.”

The death toll had climbed to an unprecedented 31, and was expected to keep rising. Individual fires including the Oakland Hills blaze of 1991 had killed more people than any one of the current fires, but no collection of simultaneous fires in California had ever led to so many deaths, authorities said.

“We had series of statewide fires in 2003, 2007, 2008 that didn’t have anything close to this death count,” said Daniel Berlant, a deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Hundreds more were injured or missing.

Firefighters were on the front lines Thursday in Sonoma, California fighting to snuff out wildfire hot spots, as evacuating residents were leaving with the belongings they could carry and haul away, with fire danger still threatening the area. (Oct. 12)

Real recovery would have to wait for firefighters to bring under control the 21 wildfires spanning more than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers). Most were less than 10 percent contained. New evacuations were still being ordered for fires that broke out on Sunday night.

“We are not even close to being out of this emergency,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services.

Choking smoke hung thick in the fire counties and drifted all over the San Francisco Bay Area, where masks to filter the fumes were becoming a regular uniform and the sunsets were 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, said Wayne Petersen in Sonoma. “It’s starting to really affect my breathing and lungs so I’m wearing the mask. It’s helping.”

Even some members of the Oakland Raiders were wearing the masks during workouts Thursday.

The fires drove hundreds of evacuees northward to beaches, some sleeping on the sand on the first night of the blazes.

Since then, authorities have brought tents and sleeping bags and opened public buildings and restaurants to house people seeking refuge in the safety and clean air of the coastal community of Bodega Bay, where temperatures drop dramatically at night.

“The kids were scared,” said Patricia Ginochio, who opened her seaside restaurant for some 300 people to sleep. “They were shivering and freezing.”

California Highway Patrol Officer Quintin Shawk took relatives and other evacuees into his home and office, as did many others.

“It’s like a refugee camp,” Shawk said.

Teams with cadaver dogs began a grim search Thursday for more dead, resorting in some cases to serial numbers stamped on medical implants to identify remains in charred ruins.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said officials were still investigating hundreds of reports of missing people and that recovery teams would 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,” said the sheriff, whose office released the names of 10 of the dead, all age 57 or older, on Thursday.

Some remains have been identified using medical devices uncovered in the scorched heaps that were once homes. Metal implants, such as artificial hips, have ID numbers that helped put names to victims, he said. Distinctive tattoos have helped identify some.

Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands. At least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed and an estimated 25,000 people forced to flee.

Fire officials were investigating whether downed power lines or other utility failures could have sparked the fires.

Some lucky evacuees returned to find what they least expected.

Anna Brooner was prepared to find rubble and ashes after fleeing Santa Rosa’s devastated Coffey Park neighborhood.

Then she got a call from a friend: “You’re not going to believe this.” Her home was one of only a handful still standing.

“I swore when I left I was never coming back to this place,” Brooner said. “I feel so bad for all the other people. All of us came back thinking we had nothing left.”

___

Dalton reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez and Janie Har in San Francisco, Jonathan J. Cooper in Santa Rosa and Brian Skoloff in Calistoga contributed to this report.

___

Follow the AP’s complete wildfire coverage here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires .