Death Toll in California Wildfires Rises to 31; Some Survivors Escaped Just In Time

Reynolds-Thompson, 65, a retired nurse, lost everything when one of the monstrous fires ravaging Northern California swept into her cul-de-sac. She, her two kids and their two dogs are now sleeping on Red Cross cots inside the gymnasium at Sonoma Valley High School.

“My house is burned to the ground, and I have no insurance,” Reynolds-Thompson said, wiping tears from under her blue-rimmed glasses.

Reynolds-Thompson is one of countless Californians whose lives have been ripped apart by the wildfires that have devastated California wine country, killing at least 31 people and destroying more than 3,500 homes and structures. Exhausted firefighters are working around the clock to beat back the 21 blazes raging simultaneously across the region.

Law enforcement and emergency officials confronted their own grim task on Thursday: the search for the missing and the dead.

Authorities were trying to track down about 400 people who remained missing, and they were beginning the somber work of recovering bodies from incinerated homes, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told reporters.

Identification of bodies may be difficult and could take some time, Giordano warned. Officials have found some remains intact, but others are “nothing more than ash and bones,” he said.

Related: ‘Like an Atom Bomb Hit’: Santa Rosa Residents Confront Devastation

Erratic wind gusts were expected to hit wine country starting Friday, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. Those conditions could throw firefighters back on their heels and whip flames into more fury.

“It’s going to continue to get worse before it gets better,” Pimlott said Wednesday.

Cal Fire officials said at least 191,400 acres had burned so far — an area almost the size of New York City. Firefighters from across California and Nevada were called in as reinforcements.