In California Firefighters battle blazes, search for victims

Body recovery teams carried out a grim search for victims of California's devastating wildfires on Monday as firefighters made progress battling blazes which have killed at least 41 people.

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Chimneys are all that remain standing in a neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California play

Chimneys are all that remain standing in a neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California

(AFP/File)
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Body recovery teams carried out a grim search for victims of California's devastating wildfires on Monday as firefighters made progress battling blazes which have killed at least 41 people.

More than 200 people remain missing eight days after large wildfires ignited in the wine-producing northern counties of Sonoma and Napa and other parts of the sprawling state.

Cadaver dogs have been enlisted to help recovery teams find the bodies of victims of the wind-driven fires, which bore down so swiftly that some residents had just minutes to flee their homes.

A total of 1,643 people have been reported missing in Sonoma County and 1,420 of them have been reported safe, according to the authorities.

Officials have said some of the remains found so far in the rubble of gutted homes were just "ash and bone" and identification could take weeks.

Many of the victims have been elderly people in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

A statue at a burned out property in Santa Rosa, California play

A statue at a burned out property in Santa Rosa, California

(AFP)

Sonoma County has been the worst hit, reporting half of the 41 deaths so far, and an estimated 3,000 homes were destroyed in the city of Santa Rosa alone.

Entire neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, population 175,000, the county seat, have been razed to the ground with just chimneys all that remain of many homes.

Residents have told harrowing tales of jumping into swimming pools and spending hours in cold water while fire consumed their homes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said Monday that the death toll rose to 41 when a private water tender driver died in a vehicle rollover in Napa County.

14 large fires still burning

Cal Fire said 11,000 firefighters -- some from as far away as Australia -- were currently battling 14 large wildfires which have burned more than 213,000 acres (86,200 hectares).

Mandi and Lane Summit embrace at their fire-destroyed home in Redwood Valley, California play

Mandi and Lane Summit embrace at their fire-destroyed home in Redwood Valley, California

(AFP)

In an update early Monday, the agency said firefighters were making "good progress" against the fires "despite the fact that several new fires ignited."

Only light winds were forecast on Monday, providing hope that more progress could be made in containing the blazes.

Evacuation orders were lifted meanwhile for several areas and Cal Fire said the number of people evacuated had dropped to 40,000 from 75,000.

A total of 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the fires, the deadliest in California's history.

"Nothing has been this bad that I've ever seen in our state, the devastation, the horror, the displacement," Governor Jerry Brown said Saturday. "It's not over yet."

Tammy Key was among residents of the Santa Rosa neighborhood of Coffey Park who returned home on Sunday.

Key said firefighters stopped the blaze close to her house, but many of her neighbors were not so lucky and lost their homes.

"It's just so devastating to think of living here without all of our neighbors," Key said "We don't know what's gonna happen, but I hope people rebuild and come back."

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