Pasadena Firefighters, On Grim Thanksgiving Week Mission to Devastated Northern California Town, Found Remains “Every Single Day”

Pasadena and neighboring USAR Teams return from the Paradise fire, they arrive at the Pasadena\'s Rose Bowl.Pasadena and neighboring USAR Teams return from the Paradise fire, they arrive at the Pasadena\'s Rose Bowl.Pasadena and neighboring USAR Teams return from the Paradise fire, they arrive at the Pasadena\'s Rose Bowl.A.C. Brown, Battalion Chief from the Pasadena Police Department hugs his Urban Search and Rescue team.Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington is interviewed.USAR team from Pasadena and neighboring departments hug one-another after returning from the Paradise Fire.USAR team from Pasadena and neighboring departments hug one-another after returning from the Paradise Fire.USAR team from Pasadena and neighboring departments hug one-another after returning from the Paradise Fire.USAR team from Pasadena and neighboring departments hug one-another after returning from the Paradise Fire.USAR team from Pasadena and neighboring departments pose for a picture after returning from the Paradise Fire.

By ANDY VITALICIO with DAVID CROSS | Photograpy by JAMES CABONE and Pasadena Fire Department

6:47 am | November 27, 2018


Pasadena firefighters returned Monday morning from a grim week-long humanitarian mission to the fire-ravaged Northern California town of Paradise, where the Camp Fire killed 88 and 203 remain missing.

The firefighters were part of Regional Task Force 4 comprised of teams from the Glendale, Burbank, Monrovia, Arcadia, Monterey, Alhambra, and San Gabriel Fire Departments.

“We knew we were going into an incident that was a tragedy, a disaster, and it was,” Pasadena Fire Captain Robert Sepulveda said. “We knew we were going in for primary and secondary search and recovery of any remains, whether they’re human or animal. We knew that we were going to be tasked with 12-hour operational periods and were going to be assigned in a geographical area that we would be responsible for.”

Regional Task Force 4 team members search a building in Paradise for remains. Image courtesy Pasadena Fire Dept.

 

The seven-man team from Pasadena Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) 32 and the rest of RTF-4 were assigned to the Creek and Concow branch of the response operations in Butte County.

By early Sunday, the death toll was over 85, making the Camp Fire the deadliest in the state’s history.

The latest recoveries were two bodies in Paradise and another in Magalia, just outside of the Plumas National Forest, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Authorities declared the fire totally contained by Sunday, after it destroyed more than 14,000 homes, over 500 businesses and 4,265 other buildings.

The fire had covered more than 153,000 acres.

“We found remains every single day during our operational period, whether they were a human or animal; we would never know because the DNA sampling process  takes a few days to collect and analyze,” Sepulveda said. “So we would find it and we would call in the anthropologists and they would come in and collect it and take it to the coroner’s office for the appropriate DNA sampling. So we don’t know and probably will never know.”

Most of the sites the Pasadena team searched were single-family residences which the fire destroyed as well as mobile homes and outbuildings that residents used as garage and storage areas.

Sepulveda described the damage as “very, very extensive.”

“The best way I could explain it to you is it looked like a nuclear bomb hit that entire community. It was wiped off the face of the map,” he said, referring to Paradise. “Our team objectives were to assist with not only search and recovery, but also to help bring closure to the families and help get the community back on their feet so they can start the rebuilding process.”

The team encountered some survivors who had cleared brush near their homes as a fire-prevention measure.

“A few people who had the proper defensive clearing of brush actually rode out the fire,” Sepulveda said. “They did not lose their home because they had that proper brush clearance.”

Pasadena City Spokesperson Lisa Derderian said the Pasadena firefighters performed search and recovery operations at 1,144 structures in the Camp Fire during their seven-day deployment.

They spent Thanksgiving Day away from their families but did not regret having to.

“We knew that our families understood and it was the right thing to do because the community really needed us at that time,” Sepulveda said. “And you know, holidays come and go, but our mission was to get up there, and do the work that we needed to do. At least we have a home and family to come back to, so we’re very grateful for that. We knew we were out there doing the right thing.”