Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue sent a team of 11 volunteers to Butte County for five days last week to search for human remains in what’s left of the town of Paradise in the wake of the Camp Fire. “It’s pretty devastating,” said Nelson Trichler, the team’s incident commander. “The entire town is wiped out. Ninety percent of the buildings, everything, just burned to the ground, in ashes.”
With search dogs, the team — among approximately 500 search-and-rescue personnel from across the state — was deployed throughout residential neighborhoods and mobile home parks to identifiable bedroom and bathroom areas, where people may have tried to shelter in place. As dogs picked up scents, team members carefully sifted through the ashes for bones; if remains were discovered, an anthropologist and one of several “roving coroner units” were called in, Trichler explained.
“I have been involved in many disasters throughout my life and thought the [January 9] debris flow in Montecito was the worst thing that I would ever see,” Trichler said. “But the magnitude and scope of this disaster is something you could never imagine. This [was] really hard, but we are fortunate that we have the training, knowledge, and experience from other disasters. We have responded to in order to help bring closure to the families.” As of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire had reported 79 fatalities and more than 12,600 homes destroyed. Nearly 700 people were listed as missing.