SAN FRANCISCO – The number of people missing in the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history peaked at more than 2,000 in the hardest hit county but now stands at 50, with authorities believing nearly all of them will be found alive.
The death toll now stands at 42 after another victim was found Tuesday.
The gut-wrenchingly high figure could have been much worse after residents got little or no warning last week and entire neighborhoods were wiped out by fast-moving, late-night flames.
"The number of dead people we're finding has really slowed down," Sonoma County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum said. "I don't see us going up significantly over what we have right now."
Sonoma County bore the brunt of the fires, with 23 deaths and 3,000 homes destroyed in the city of Santa Rosa alone.
Sheriff Rob Giordano said Wednesday that 50 people were still on the county's missing persons list — split evenly between Santa Rosa and the rest of the county.
Crum said about half were known to be homeless and likely didn't perish because they did not live in the areas hardest hit by fire.
Some others were placed on the list by people who hadn't seen or heard from them in years. Authorities say they are trying to investigate every missing person report.
Napa County, which has counted seven deaths so far, has just four people left on its missing persons list, down from 14 on Monday.
"We're finding people are connecting with loved ones through social media and phone calls," county spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said by email.
The agonizing wait continues for those whose loved ones remain on the list.
Gina Russell is looking for her son Christopher Le Loup, 26, who was staying with a friend in Santa Rosa just before the fires broke out Oct. 8.
She said he has bouts of confusion but never goes a week without calling. She doesn't know if he's in a hospital, disoriented and scared, or something else. He had no photo ID.
"Not knowing is the hardest part," Russell told the Los Angeles Times . "Whatever happened to him, wherever he is . Please, God, I need to know. Anything has to be better than this."