Families face confusion, varying responses over fire missing

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of people are still listed as missing four days after wildfires ignited and zipped through California wine country, and the search for them has been marked by confusion and responses that differ dramatically by area.

Authorities in hard-hit Sonoma County are searching for those reported missing by family and friends, but many of them live in fire zones that can’t be accessed as the flames rage largely out of control.

The wildfires ripping through Northern California have killed more than two dozen people and burned thousands of homes and businesses.

About 400 people are listed as missing, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Thursday, although those numbers may include duplicates or people who are actually safe. His department has more than 20 detectives and other personnel working most of each day to investigate the reports.

He also has held several press conferences a day to update the numbers of reported missing.

Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, on the other hand, holds one briefing in the morning and has told family and friends searching for missing loved ones to register with a Red Cross website. His agency isn’t searching for those on the list of missing.

With authorities focused on getting people out of the way of flames much of this week, friends and relatives desperate for news turned to social media for help and checked shelters and hospitals in person.

A Santa Rosa family found the remains of their mother in the rubble of her home Wednesday, more than 48 hours after she told her daughter by phone she was trapped in her burning house at a mobile home park.

“My mother’s remains have been found at her home at Journey’s End. May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma,” Jessica Tunis wrote on Facebook.

Frances Dinkelspiel, a journalist in Berkeley, turned to social media for help finding her stepbrother, Jim Conley, after tweeting at authorities and getting little help. But it was a round of telephone calls that ultimately led her to him.

A Santa Rosa hospital initially said it had no record of him, but when the family tried again, they were told he had been transferred elsewhere with serious burns.

It was a frustrating experience, Dinkelspiel said, but “I’m glad he’s in a hospital and isn’t lying injured on the side of the road.”

Several dozen names were on a dry-erase board at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, which the Red Cross had turned into an evacuation center with dormitories, cold showers and three meals a day. Dozens of evacuees hung about, waiting for word for when they could return to their homes.

Debbie Short, an evacuee staying at the Finley Center, had been listed as missing. She was walking past the dry-erase board when she noticed her name on it, likely because a friend had been looking for her.

A Red Cross volunteer erased her name.

This post originally appeared on Townhall


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