SAN FRANCISCO - The death toll from wildfires raging in Northern California has now grown to 17.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced two additional deaths there late Tuesday. That brings the county’s total to 11. The other six are spread among Napa, Yuba and Mendocino counties.
The Sheriff’s Office released only the names of the streets where the deceased were discovered, and no information on the identities or circumstances of the deaths.
The series of fires that flared up north of San Francisco on Sunday night are among the deadliest in California history.
The blazes have also left at least 180 people injured and have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties as officials estimated the fire had wiped out "well in excess of" 50 structures.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the wine country north of San Francisco Bay and elsewhere after blazes broke out late Sunday.
Here's the latest list of evacuations:
- Atlas Peak Road, including Silverado Country Club
- Knights Valley to Tubbs Lane in Calistoga
- Monticello Road to Circle Oaks Subdivision
- Montecito Road and Monte Vista area
- Soda Canyon Road
- Wooden Valley Road area - evacuating to Solano Community College Library
- Partrick Road
Napa County has opened its Emergency Operations Center and emergency shelters in response to a series of wildfires burning in Napa County.
CELL PHONE OUTAGES: Cell phone providers are experiencing network outages and impacts in part of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties. We have been advised that companies are working as quickly as possible to assess damage and restore service.
Emergency Shelters are open at:
Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga-1435 N Oak Street
Crosswalk Community Church in Napa- 2590 First Street
Napa Valley College Gym-2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway
Evacuation orders have issued for residents of the following Santa Rosa neighborhoods due to approaching fires
- Cross Creek Road
- Sky Farm Drive
- Saint Andrews Drive,
- All residences north Fountaingrove Parkway
- Montecito Heights
- The Hopper Avenue Area West of Coffey Lane (Between Dennis Lane and Hopper Avenue to the north and south and Coffey Lane and Barnes Road to the east and west)
- All residences east of Fulton Road, between Piner Road and Guerneville Road
- Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital are being evacuated
- Oakmont - all of Oakmont East of Melita Rd, please evacuate to the WEST
View PDF of the evacuation area
Residents need to heed evacuation orders. Evacuation means that you need to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!
CRITICAL MESSAGE TO SANTA ROSA RESIDENTS: Evacuated residents should NOT attempt to return home until notified by City Officials.
All Santa Rosa City School will be closed today, Monday, October 9, 2017.
Other areas around Sonoma County:
Piner Road area to downtown Forestville; Cloverdale KOA; Palomino Road; Vanoni Road to Gill Creek Road; Arnold Drive to state hospital and west to Jack London State Park; Roberts Road, Lichau Road, Pressley Road and Sonoma Mountain Road.
The National Weather Service said widespread wind gusts between 35 mph and 50 mph were observed in the north San Francisco Bay region and isolated spots hit 70 mph. The winds were expected to subside at midday.
Fire damages Catholic high school
A Northern California wildfire has destroyed about half of a Catholic high school and left some 620 students without school for the rest of the week.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports (http://bit.ly/2xsJF0k) that the library, main office and portable classrooms of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa are burned.
Principal Graham Rutherford estimated that up to 18 of the school's 35 classrooms are likely destroyed. He said the challenge now is to determine how to use the classroom space that remains.
Other schools in the area were also heavily damaged or destroyed.
Wildfire burns Southern California homes
A wind-driven wildfire has ignited homes in a Southern California subdivision.
TV news helicopters over the blaze in the Anaheim hills of eastern Orange County are showing several homes fully involved and flames spreading in others Monday afternoon.
Fire crews are scrambling to protect structures. Evacuations have been ordered for neighborhoods and two elementary schools.
The fire erupted during the fall's first significant blast of Santa Ana winds, the seasonal gusts linked to some of the region's worst wildfires.
In Northern California, wildfires overnight have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings, and 20,000 people have been evacuated.
Follow the latest wildfire updates below:
California wine country wildfires force hospital, home evacuations
Alyssa O'Gorman and her family fled their home in the nick of time, dodging the wind-driven wildfires roaring across northern California's wine country early Monday.
As the flames closed in Sunday night, they left without a change of clothes. O'Gorman, her parents and her grandfather gathered their animals and were out of the house in minutes.
O'Gorman, a nursing assistant, was driving home from her job when she first spotted flames.
After evacuating the house, which sits at the dead end of a one-lane road in rural Napa County, she and her family watched from a distance as a propane tank exploded and their home's roof caught fire.
If O'Gorman hadn't been coming home from work to wake her family, "we would have been in the house trapped," she said.
Veronica Ortega was at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Santa Rosa when she smelled smoke and saw flames through the window of her fiancé's room on the fourth floor.
The two soon were loaded onto a city bus and shuttled away.
O'Gorman and Ortega were among many who scrambled to safety as the blazes rolled through, forcing emergency evacuations from the hospital, homes and hotels. The fires spread across roads and burned several structures, local officials told CNN. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox reported several injuries.
"This fire is explosive," Cox said.
The National Weather Service in San Francisco on Sunday issued a "red flag warning" for the Bay Area because of current or impending critical fire weather conditions. The warning cited dry, "windy locations through the Napa Valley and northern Sonoma County valleys." Gusts ranging from 35 mph to more than 60 mph were recorded. There were a few hurricane-force gusts of more than 74 mph.
"Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly," the warning said.
Forecasters said winds will remain strong on Monday morning but are expected to ease by midday. But the warning will likely remain in effect because of the warm and dry conditions and the presence of wildfires.
The blazes engulfed acreage in Sonoma and Napa counties as responders worked through the night to fight the fires. KPIX said the blazes had stretched local firefighting resources, and calls were out for assistance.
In Sonoma County, Santa Rosa's city manager declared the fires a local emergency. News footage showed Kaiser Permanente Hospital patients wheeled out on stretchers.
The city also ordered evacuations in several neighborhoods. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said hotels were evacuated and shelters were set up. The county is working to set up shelters at fairgrounds to house animals. In Napa County, evacuations were underway as firefighters battled blazes. There were also fires in Lake and Mendecino counties.
Cal Fire listed updated acreages for a few of the many blazes, including Tubbs Fire in Napa County, 20,000 acres; Altas Fire in Napa County, 5,000 acres; and the Redwood Fire in Mendocino County, 4,500 acres.
Meanwhile, as she takes refuge with a relative in Santa Rosa, O'Gorman can't stop thinking about about the valuables and keepsakes left behind in her home, which she now believes is gone.
She's too distraught to sleep.
"I'm probably not going to," she says. "Not until I can see my house."
'Wine doesn't matter. People matter.'
Napa County was dealing with the biggest blazes, with the Tubbs fire at 27,000 acres, the Atlas fire at 25,000 acres and the Partrick fire at 5,000 acres.
In Sonoma County, firefighters also battled the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, the Nuns fire at 5,000 acres and another fire that spread 1,500 acres.
In Mendocino County, the Redwood Complex fire had burned at least 19,000 acres, as of Monday night.
Large wildfires often are named for local geographic areas or features.
Alison Crowe, the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley, said she has not been told to evacuate her home on the western edge of downtown Napa.
"I have friends fighting off fires with hoses in the hills. Thankfully a lot of my friends got out last night," she said Monday.
The main road through the area is still open, but she said the aggressive nature of the blaze worries her.
"It's scary. We feel surrounded," she said.
The city of Napa was not under evacuation, but parts of it remained under boil water notice, and many lost power and cell service, according to the Napa police. Nearly 35,000 people were without power throughout the state, according to an outage map from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. early Tuesday.
Crowe estimated two-thirds to three-fourths of Napa's grape harvest already had taken place but said some grapes still haven't been picked. The 2017 harvest will be remembered for this fire, she said.
"Wine doesn't matter; people matter," she said. "I know that's people's attitude right now."
Napa and Sonoma counties have the most wineries in California. The economic impact from the wine industry was estimated at $13 billion for each county, according to 2012 and 2014 research done by Stonebridge Research Group.
Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, said she has heard of winery losses in her county, but that the total impact won't be known for some time as evacuations are still in place.
She lost her home in the fire after she evacuated at 2 a.m. Monday. She had 10 minutes to evacuate and came back later in the day to find her home gone.
"I'm lucky. I'm out. I'm safe," Kruse told CNN. "I'm still probably a little in shock myself."
Fires destroy at least 2 California wineries, damage others
Workers in Northern California's renowned wine country picked through charred debris and weighed what to do with pricey grapes after wildfires swept through lush vineyards and destroyed at least two wineries and damaged many others.
The wind-driven wildfires erupted as Napa and Sonoma counties were finishing highly anticipated harvests of wine grapes. Normally, workers would have been picking and processing ripe grapes to make chardonnay and other wines.
Instead, melted and blackened wine bottles littered the ruined Signorello Estate winery in Napa Valley. Workers at the Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted photos of debris and haze and said they were "heartbroken" to announce that the facility had burned.
A maintenance worker watched and hoped for the best Monday as flames crept down a hillside near the Gundlach Bundschu Winery.
"It's right behind the main office. It's working its way down the hillside. What can I say? It's slowly working its way in," Tom Willis said.
The Napa Valley Vintners trade association said Monday that most wineries were closed because of power outages, evacuation orders and employees who couldn't get to work. The organization did not have firm numbers on wineries that burned or information on how the fires might affect the industry. But it said most grapes had already been picked.
About 12 percent of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. But they are the highest value grapes that yield the most expensive wines, she said.
She was optimistic that the fires will not affect the wines to come out of this year's harvest. Most of the grapes have been picked and of the ones still on the vine, smoke would have to be heavy and sustained to do much damage.
Even then, the damage would be limited to the fruit, not the vines. That means next year's crop should be unharmed, Oberholster said.
Gloria Ferrer, Ravenswood and Kenwood were among well-known wineries closed for the day because of the fires, according to social media posts. Chateau Montelena Winery, which helped put California on the global wine map when it won a French wine-tasting competition in 1976, escaped damage.
Wineries that escaped damage struggled with the lack of power, which they need to process grapes.
"Some of our growers did pick for us last night. So we had to unload the fruit into our cold barrel room and wait until tomorrow to process it," said Alisa Jacobson, vice president of winemaking at Joel Gott Wines.
"I think we'll be OK, but it's not an ideal situation. But more importantly, all our employees seem to be doing OK," she said.
She said she was stunned by the speed of the fires after falling asleep around 10 p.m. Sunday only to wake during the night to the smell of smoke. By 3 a.m. people were being evacuated.
Trump vows help in fighting California wildfires
President Donald Trump says the federal government will be there for the people of California as devastating wildfires rage through the state's famed wine country.
Trump says he spoke with Gov. Jerry Brown Monday night to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."
At least 15 people have died and at least 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed by the wildfires in Northern California.
National Guard bringing fuel to firefighters
The California National Guard has been tasked with bringing fuel to first responders battling the flames in Northern California because so many gas stations are without power.
Officials say trucks are bringing fuel into inaccessible areas and helping fuel emergency vehicles directly from the trucks. The utility companies, meanwhile, have representatives stationed at the state's emergency operations headquarters in Sacramento working to get power back up and running.
Emergency operations director Mark Ghilarducci says several thousand people in Napa and Sonoma counties are still without power. Seventy-seven cellular sites were damaged or destroyed, also disrupting communication.
Major General David Baldwin of the California National Guard says 242 soldiers and airmen are assisting in responding to the fires in the two counties.
Ashes and stinging smoke mark devastation in wine country
In neighborhood after neighborhood, all that remains are the smoldering ashes and eye-stinging smoke from a day of utter devastation.
A thick, smoky haze cloaked much of Napa and Sonoma counties, where neighborhoods hit by the fires were completely leveled. In the Santa Rosa suburb known as Coffey Park, house after house was gone with only brick chimneys still standing. The flames burned so hot that windows and tire rims melted off cars, leaving many parked vehicles sitting on their steel axles. The only recognizable remnants at many homes were charred washing machines and dryers.
Officials hoped cooler weather and lighter winds would help crews get a handle on 17 separate fires, which are among the deadliest in California history.
"The weather has been working in our favor, but it doesn't mean it will stay that way," said Brad Alexander, a spokesman of the governor's Office of Emergency Services.
The extra firefighters came from throughout California and Nevada. Extra law enforcement officers will help with evacuations and guard against looting, Alexander said.
At least 100 people have been injured and 100 were missing in Sonoma County alone, authorities said.
The fires that started Sunday night moved so quickly that thousands of people were forced to flee with only a few minutes of warning, and some did not get out in time. Among the victims were Charles and Sara Rippey, who were married for 75 years and lived at the Silverado Resort in Napa.
"The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other," their granddaughter, Ruby Gibney told Oakland television station KTVU.
In Washington, President Donald Trump said he spoke with Gov. Jerry Brown to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."
More than 400 miles away from the wine-making region, flames imperiled parts of Southern California, too. Thousands of people were displaced by a wildfire that destroyed or damaged 24 structures, including homes. Hot, dry Santa Ana winds swept fire along brushy outskirts of Orange County suburbs and equestrian properties southeast of Los Angeles. More than a dozen schools were closed.
The blaze, which disrupted major commuter routes, spread over nearly a dozen square miles in less than 24 hours as a squadron of helicopters and airplanes bombarded it with water and retardant, and an army of firefighters grew to 1,100 by Tuesday morning.
At the northern end of the state, residents who gathered at emergency shelters and grocery stores said they were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the flames. They recalled all the possessions that were lost.
"All that good stuff, I'm never going to see it again," said Jeff Okrepkie, who fled his neighborhood in Santa Rosa knowing it was probably the last time he would see his home of the past five years standing.
His worst fears were confirmed Monday, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smoldering heap of burnt metal and debris.
Some of the largest blazes burning over a 200-mile region were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. They sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) away.
Sonoma County established a hotline to help families looking for missing loved ones. It's possible that many or most of the people reported missing are safe but simply cannot be reached because of the widespread loss of cellphone service and other communications.
Much of the damage was in Santa Rosa, a far larger and more developed city than usually finds itself at the mercy of a wildfire. The city is home to 175,000 people, including both the wine-country wealthy and the working class.
Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, who now runs an outdoor sporting goods store in Santa Rosa, was forced to flee with his wife, two daughters and a son just over 2 weeks old.
"I can't shake hearing people scream in terror as the flames barreled down on us," Lowry said.
His family and another evacuating with them tried to take U.S. 101 to evacuate but found it blocked by flames, and had to take country roads to get to the family friends who took them in.
Driving around the area remained difficult Tuesday with many road closures and intense traffic on roads that remained open.
Highway 12, which winds through the heart of wine country, was rendered unusable by the flames.
The flames forced authorities to focus primarily on getting people out safely, even if it meant abandoning structures to the fire.
October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires. But it was unusual for many fires to take off at the same time.
Other than the windy conditions that helped drive them all, there was no known connection between the blazes, and no cause has been released for any of them.
Couple killed in California wildfire wed 75 years
Mike Rippey stood among pieces of metal, porcelain and other remnants of the California home where his 100-year-old father and 98-year-old mother had died in the raging wine country wildfires.
Rippey said Tuesday his brother had discovered their bodies after driving to the home and managing to get past security.
He said his father Charles appeared to be heading to the room of his mother, Sara, when he was overcome by the smoke and flames.
“My father certainly wouldn’t have left her,” Mike Rippey said.
The couple had met in grade school in Wisconsin and been together ever since, celebrating their 75th anniversary last year.
Rippey, 71, said he and his siblings couldn’t imagine how either parent would have navigated life if just one had survived the flames.
“We knew there’s no way they would ever be happy, whoever was the last one. So they went together, and that’s the way it worked,” he said stoically.
In the charred remains of the home, only metal and porcelain survived to testify to the couple’s long life together. There were coffee cups along a low sill; two metal chairs, side-by-side by a patio table; and a porcelain tea set of white and soft washes of blue, some pieces still intact.
Charles Rippey — nicknamed “Peach” as a toddler for his chubby cheeks — and his wife were among the 17 victims who have died in the fierce, fast-moving fires that started on Sunday and raged through neighborhoods. None of the other victims had been identified.
Authorities are expecting other older people to be among the dead, who like the Rippeys might not have been able to move fast enough to beat the flames.
Mike Rippey said his mother had previously suffered a stroke.
Seventeen wildfires raging across parts of seven counties have destroyed more than 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures.
The wildfires rank among the five deadliest in California history, and officials expect the death toll to rise as the scope of destruction becomes clear.
At least 185 people were injured, and nearly 200 have been reported missing in Sonoma County alone, though many may be safe but unable to use damaged communication systems.
Mike Rippey was in London and boarding a flight to California when his brother called and told him their parents had died.
The couple attended the University of Wisconsin and married in 1942 before Charles Rippey served as a U.S. Army engineer in World War II. He became an executive with the Firestone tire company.
Rippey said he had no plans to rebuild the home.
“Without them, it doesn’t mean a thing,” he said. “It’s gone. They’re gone.”
Vintners inspect grapes, check buildings after wildfires
Worried California vintners surveyed the damage to their vineyards and wineries Tuesday as wildfires sweep through counties whose famous names have become synonymous with fine food and drink.
At the Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma County, workers were not sure the grapes above the winery survived a second night of fires that have destroyed at least two wineries and damaged more.
“We haven’t been able to go up and assess the vine damage,” said Katie Bundschu, vice president of sales. “We’re in the process of salvaging what we can.”
Speedy, wind-driven wildfires that continued to burn Tuesday came as workers in Napa and Sonoma counties were picking and processing ripe grapes to make chardonnay, merlot and other wines that have made the region a global hot spot. Millions of locals and out-of-staters flock to the counties every year to sample wine, sit in mud baths and soak in the region’s natural beauty.
At least five wineries belonging to members have had “complete losses” in facilities, with another nine reporting some damage, said Michael Honig, board chairman of the Napa Valley Vintners trade association and president of Honig Vineyard & Winery. He said the group has not heard from all members, especially those in the most vulnerable parts of the valley.
“We don’t have a good idea of how the vineyards have been impacted,” he said. “The silver lining, if there is one to this fire, this situation, is that most of us have brought in 90 percent of our crop for 2017, so the vast majority of the crops have been picked.”
Most of the remaining fruit, he said, are thicker-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes that won’t be affected by smoke.
Bundschu, a sixth-generation vintner, recounted a scary Monday night in which the flames licked at the perimeter of the winery but were beaten back by firefighters. A century-old redwood barn and her grandmother’s 1919 home were spared.
Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest family-run winery in California, started in 1858.
She was eager to dispel reports that the winery had been destroyed, as was Nicholson Ranch winery, also in Sonoma County, which posted on Facebook that news of its demise was premature.
“The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars. We are cleaning up and hoping to have the power back on this week,” it said.
Even wineries that were destroyed may survive. Melted and blackened wine bottles littered the ruined Signorello Estate winery in Napa Valley, but its vineyard looked untouched by flames.
Spokeswoman Charlotte Milan said she could only confirm damage to the winery and a residence, explaining that workers had not been able to go on site. She said the estate’s 2015 reds and 2016 whites were stored off-site.
The Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted Monday that it was “heartbroken” to announce that the facility had burned.
About 12 percent of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. But they are the highest value grapes that yield the most expensive wines, she said.
She was optimistic that the fires will not affect the wines to come out of this year’s harvest. Smoke would have to be heavy and sustained to do much damage and even then, she said, the harm would be limited to the fruit, not the vines or soil.
That means next year’s crop should be unharmed, Oberholster said.
Tourism officials said Tuesday that wine country is open for business.
Sara Brooks, chairwoman of the Visit Napa Valley Board of Directors and general manager of the historic Napa River Inn, said she has had some cancellations, but expects tourism to bounce back as it did after the 2014 Napa earthquake.
Honig said the next few days might not be the best time to sample wines, but he wants people to visit in a week or two. He is convinced the Napa brand will survive.
“We’ve suffered with pests, fires, drought,” he said. “We made it through Prohibition. This is a short-term setback.”
A cigarette, a car backfire: Small sparks can make big fires
A carelessly discarded cigarette, a downed power line, a car’s backfire or a chainsaw’s pull. Just about anything could have started any one of the wildfires now tearing through Northern California, authorities said.
“Every spark is going to ignite a fire,” said Ken Pimlott, the state’s top firefighter. He said the risk remains “extreme for new starts.”
Pimlott said Tuesday that investigators are looking into the causes, but no determination has been made at any of the 17 sites of major wildfires blazing in Northern California.
Pimlott, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection director, said “98 percent” of all wildfires are started by people and it’s unlikely lightning is to blame for any of the fires that exploded overnight Sunday, killing at least 17 people so far.
California’s most dangerous wildfire season comes in autumn, when summer heat and insects have left brush dead and dried out, and winds are especially hot, dry and strong.
“This is traditionally California’s worst time for fires,” Pimlott said.
Pimlott said firefighters typically respond to 300 blazes a week during this season, but nearly all are extinguished quickly and with minimal damage. It’s unusual to have many major fires burning at once, he said.
However, conditions were ripe for wildfires in California wine country after record rains last winter created an abundance of dry vegetation, which combined with low humidity and unusually high winds gusting to 79 mph to create fast-moving infernos.
None of the major fires has been contained. They are spread over a 200-mile region north of San Francisco from Napa in the south to Redding in the north, taxing firefighting resources.
“Our primary effort is going to put containment lines in as quickly as possible,” Pimlott said Tuesday.
Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said fires had been moving too fast and unpredictably for firefighters to attack directly.
“The winds were extremely erratic during those conditions of high winds and a lot of things happened,” Biermann said Tuesday. He and others said resources are stretched thin as firefighters battle so many major blazes simultaneously.
California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci said more than 4,000 firefighters, law enforcement officials and others are responding. Airplanes are dropping fire retardant and fresh firefighters from Southern California and Nevada are streaming in to help. Lines are being dug on the south side of many blazes in preparation for northerly winds picking up.
The U.S. Department of Defense is sending a large drone to help map the fires and assess damage. The California National Guard is also providing gasoline to firefighters and other first responders because many service stations in the area are without power and unable to pump fuel.
The biggest and most devastating fire is burning in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 people 45 miles north of San Francisco. A fire there swept through several neighborhoods and business districts, destroying at least 550 homes and 21 commercial buildings. Many residents had only minutes to flee. Eleven of the 17 fatalities found so far have occurred in and near Santa Rosa.
Many roads are closed throughout Northern California, though U.S. Route 101 was reopened in two spots Tuesday. California Highway Patrol officers are helping with security at evacuation centers and providing escorts to rescue vehicles traveling in dangerous areas, commissioner Warren Stanley said.
He also had a request for motorists in the area:
“Anybody who is driving around — if you’re smoking in your car — please do not throw your cigarettes out the window.”
Families use Facebook to search for loved ones after fires
Desperate to find her mother after hearing her say “I’m going to die” over the phone as her mobile home caught fire, Jessica Tunis thought she should put her mom’s name and picture on Facebook with a plea for help, a now common and constant move for concerned loved ones in disasters such as the Northern California wildfires.
But she hesitated.
“At first, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I wanted to respect my mother’s privacy,” Tunis, whose mother was still among the missing amid the fires, told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. “I didn’t want to spread her all over the place.”
She soon realized that was exactly what she wanted to do. She joined the dozens of people posting heartfelt pleas like “Looking for my Grandpa Robert,” ″We are looking for our mother Norma,” or “I can’t find my mom,” with hopes they are just out of touch and not among the dead. The increasingly familiar ritual was seen with recent hurricanes Harvey, Rita and Maria and after last week’s Las Vegas shooting.
Nearly 200 people were reported missing, though authorities say many are believed to be safe just unable to communicate with friends and family because of downed communication lines in the fire areas.
Tunis posted a picture of her mother smiling at a café with the caption, “Does anyone know if Journey’s End Mobile Home Park got evacuated before it burned down? I can’t find my mom, Linda Tunis.”
Most, including the owner of the trailer park and residents who talked to the AP, believe everyone did, in fact, get out before it burned to the ground. But Linda Tunis is still missing.
“I’ve called the coroner. I’ve called every hospital. There are no Jane Does, which is amazing that they know who everyone is,” Tunis said. “I’ve called burn units, I’ve called everywhere.”
Jessica Tunis’ post spawned well over 100 comments, most from strangers. Some gave suggestions of places to look or call. Many just gave good wishes and prayers, then came back to ask for updates. Others took it as an assignment.
“I’ve had people going to shelters for me because of Facebook,” Tunis said. “It does help. For sure. Anything helps.”
It’s only drawback, she said, has been false reports and false hope.
“One person messaged me that they saw her,” Tunis said, “they said she was looking at her phone. I knew that wasn’t her. You get your hopes up for a split second.”
Tunis said the online support has given her hope, but can’t stop thinking that her mother might have been missed during the evacuation.
When her mom called to say her house was on fire before dawn Monday, Tunis screamed repeatedly for her to get out.
“She said ‘I can’t get out. There’s fire at both doors. My house is on fire.’ She just kept saying ‘fire,’ and coughing. She said ‘I’m going to die.’ Then the phone went dead.”
Jessica Tunis was not among the lucky ones whose loved ones turned up within hours or minutes after their Facebook posts.
“This is my grandma,” read a post by Mica Jennings. “We haven’t heard from her all day and have checked the shelters ... with no luck.”
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