Identifying wildfire dead: DNA, and likely older methods too

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) – (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

Authorities doing the somber work of identifying the victims of California’s deadliest wildfire are drawing on leading-edge DNA technology. But experts say older scientific techniques and deduction could also come into play.

With the death toll from the Northern California blaze topping 40 and expected to rise, officials said they were setting up a rapid DNA-analysis system, among other steps.

Rapid DNA is a term for portable devices that can identify someone’s genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

But more traditional methods, such as examining dental records, are often a first step. Partially, that’s because victims might have had dental X-rays but not personal DNA profiles. Other medical records – of bone fractures, prosthetics or implants, for instance – also can be helpful.

3:50 p.m.

As a huge wildfire burns in Southern California, residents who stayed behind in coastal communities cut off by road closures are getting supplies by boat.

Gas, food, baby wipes and horse pellets are among the items brought ashore Tuesday in the Paradise Cove area of Malibu.

Large boats arrived from Redondo Beach, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south. Supplies were unloaded onto smaller boats and even surf boards. Some residents donned wet suits and swam ashore with cases of water and beer.

The fire northwest of Los Angeles has charred 150 square miles (388 square kilometers) of brush and timber, but containment has increased to 35 percent. More than 400 structures have been destroyed.

Some Malibu residents are being allowed to return Wednesday afternoon, but tens of thousands of people remain under evacuation orders.

3:45 p.m.

People are coming to shelters in Northern California in search of loved ones and neighbors who are missing after a deadly fire tore through the town of Paradise.

Greg Gibson searched a shelter in Chico on Tuesday for information about his missing neighbors. He doesn’t know if they tried to leave or not but says the fire exploded so quickly that if they hesitated, they would have had trouble.

It’s not clear how many people are unaccounted for in the fire that ignited last week. At least 42 people are dead.

Harold Taylor says he barely made it out of his house alive Thursday morning. The 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane says he tried to convince his neighbor to get in his car with him, but the neighbor declined. He doesn’t know what happened to his friend.

12:45 p.m.

A fire official says crews have made “a lot of progress” in preventing a deadly Northern California from reaching Oroville, a town of 19,000 people.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection operations chief Josh Bischof said Tuesday that firefighters on foot and in bulldozers are working south of the town of Paradise. It was leveled by the blaze that started last Thursday.

Officials had worried strong winds could spread the wildfire toward Oroville and the Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest. Firefighters on Monday cleared brush and sprayed water on vegetation near the dam.

Bischof says “we’re feeling a lot better about this area.”

More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the fire that killed at least 42 people in Paradise and nearby communities.

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