The wildfires raging in California have killed at least 31 people and destroyed thousands of businesses and homes, including that of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. The Washington Post reports that the death toll has reached "historically grim heights," with entire neighborhoods gutted and authorities facing the gruesome task of trying to ID the dead. CNN notes officials are turning to a whole slew of identification markers, including using tattoos, fingerprints, and even hip implant serial numbers, in addition to dental records. "Some of them are merely ashes and bones," says Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano. "And we may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes. When you're cremated, you can't get an ID." More on the fires:
- The Los Angeles Times worries this fire season is on course "to be one of California's worst." That's because the autumn, which has only just begun, brings strong, warm Santa Ana and Diablo winds that exacerbate the spread of fires. The long, hot summer California just endured also dried up more vegetation, creating a tinderbox for future sparks.
- Aerial photos at HuffPost show the apocalyptic-like devastation, including infrared images that show healthy vegetation among the ruins. Especially heartbreaking: photos where whole swaths of charred neighborhoods are shown, while just across the street, other sections look completely untouched. USA Today features additional drone footage.
- The Mercury News reports on one of the more "surreal" visuals spotted so far: a lone mailman caught on drone video continuing to make his rounds to the burned-out Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa. The photographer shooting the footage for the Today show says it was a "trippy thing" to witness. A local USPS manager explains: "A few customers asked the carrier to leave their mail if the mailbox was still standing," and he was simply honoring their request.
- One sector especially hard-hit: the state's marijuana crops. The New York Times reports seven pot farms have been destroyed, with expectations that number will climb. And because the feds still consider marijuana illegal, this is a cash-only industry with difficult-to-obtain insurance—meaning huge losses for those invested. "They leveraged themselves entirely," the director of the California Growers Association says of those seven farms, none of which had insurance. "It's going to hit some families really hard."
- Meanwhile, Reuters reports affected vineyards could turn out vintages tasting smokier than usual, which have been sold after previous California fires (buyers were notified they were buying "smoke-tainted" product).
- More harrowing survival stories are emerging, including that of a now-homeless Teri Reynolds-Thompson. NBC News documents how the 65-year-old, who'd canceled her fire insurance to pay for her son's dental work, watched the fire sweeping toward her home Monday. Because there was no time to retrieve her wheelchair, her two adult children had to carry her to safety, right before their house burst into flames. "We are in trouble now," she says. "Where are we going to live? What are we going to do?"
- CBS San Francisco looks at some of the evacuation efforts, in which hundreds of displaced residents are forced to flee to safer communities. One restaurant owner in Bodega Bay opened her doors for about 300 people to take shelter. "The kids were scared," she said. "They were shivering and freezing."
- Vox says these blazes aren't just an anomaly of Mother Nature, blaming humans for too much urban development, climate change that makes the fires worse, and for igniting many of them in the first place.
- In a CNN op-ed, Breena Kerr takes to task the local communications system, writing that officials should have sent out a mass alert—something they chose not to do in Sonoma County Sunday evening for fear of inciting panic. "I saw people in their driveway with binoculars trying to gauge where the smoke was headed on Tuesday, and that makes the deficiencies of the system painfully obvious," she writes.
(Read more California wildfires