Bones among ashes

The Camp Fire scorched about 240 square miles of Northern California. There have been 85 confirmed deaths—so far. But that figure will probably keep growing. Right now, the list of people still unaccounted still hovers around 300. Crews composed of searchers from sheriff’s departments all over Northern California, Federal Emergency Management Agency task forces, and other state and local agencies are scouring the evacuation zone, looking for building hazards and the deceased. I recently interviewed one of the responders about that grim and important task.

“One family we found in one structure,” said Dr. Patrick Sweet, a family and emergency room doctor from San Diego deployed to the Camp Fire with FEMA’s California Task Force 8. We communicated over text message while he was inside the evacuation zone, traveling with a team from burned house to burned house to search for human remains using rakes and shovels. He described the process: “Our search teams look through the debris and look for bones. Then they call me in to look and see if they are human. We then have the dog brought in and see if they make the find without interference. We then notify [the] sheriff after we tape it off.” Then a coroner is called in to collect and eventually help to identify the remains of the person identified by the search crew and their dogs.

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