‘Just ash and bones’: California wildfire survivors mourn loved ones
George Powell, 74, lost his wife of 33 years; the Shepherd family lost their teenage son. They were among dozens of deaths in the states deadliest week of wildfires
Lynne Anderson Powell had a 15-minute head start on her husband, George, when the couple fled the wildfire tearing through the Mayacamas mountains in Sonoma County around 1am Monday. Powell, 72, grabbed her laptop and her border collie Jemma and drove off in a blue Prius while her husband searched for their other three dogs.
I wasnt going to leave without my dogs, George Powell, 74, said by phone Friday. By the time I got on the road, this huge wall of fire was coming. Between the fire and the smoke, you couldnt see anything.
He drove through burning trees until he reached a safe parking lot, where he waited for his wife. She never arrived, and he spent three days searching shelters and hospitals. The couple had met on a blind date when George was working as a photojournalist with the Los Angeles Times, and he followed her back to Albuquerque, where she was a principal flutist for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra before her retirement. We took one look at each other and that was it, he recalled.
On Wednesday, George got a call from a detective: authorities believe his wife of 33 years drove off the side of the winding canyon road and had died after leaving her car. They asked for the name of her dentist to identify the remains.
I went by her, he said, recalling his harrowing escape. If I could have gotten out of the car, I would have gone back and died with her.
A temporary respite from the weather has allowed firefighters in northern California to make progress in containing the regions deadly wildfires and search and rescue teams to embark on the grim task of finding and identifying the dead.
Thirty-five fatalities have been recorded so far, making this the deadliest week in California wildfire history. But that number could rise as search-and-rescue teams are deployed to sift through the remains of 3,500 burned buildings.