Remains of two more Valley fire victims found in Lake County
ANDERSON SPRINGS — Searching for the scent of death, teams of cadaver dogs Thursday canvassed the blackened ruins of homes devoured by the Valley fire as the 5-day-old wildfire continued to expand.
The death toll rose Thursday as authorities confirmed that three people are now believed to have perished in the devastating blaze following the discovery of two more bodies in Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs.
Firefighters continued efforts to stamp out stubborn hot spots ahead of what is predicted to be another scorching hot weekend. The most active fronts were in the southeast section of the fire zone, in the area of Aetna Springs, near Pope Valley, and also areas from the Geysers all the way through Cobb, Loch Lomond and Seigler Springs, said Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal for Santa Rosa Fire department and a spokesman for agencies battling the Valley fire.
The fire, which had grown to 73,700 acres by Thursday night and stretched across portions of Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties, was only 35 percent contained, Cal Fire reported. More than 3,900 firefighters were battling the blaze.
Residents of Berryessa Estates were allowed to return to their homes Thursday in Napa County, but thousands of evacuees grow more anxious by the day for word on when they might be able to go home, or to what is left of the structures. Judging by the amount of fire damage that was still apparent Thursday in areas off-limits to the public, it could be a long wait.
Smoke rose Thursday in numerous heavily forested locations on the east side of Cobb Mountain, while in and around communities along Highway 175, massive tree stumps crackled with flames. On Butts Canyon Road on the fire’s southeastern flank, firefighters cruising in dozens of engines moved up and down the otherwise deserted road seeking access to the front lines.
But away from the feverish firefight, a much quieter and more somber exercise was carried out Thursday in communities ravaged by the flames. There, dogs scrambled through the rubble of entire neighborhoods, searching for bodies.
Human remains were located Wednesday in two areas ravaged by the fire, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday. Based on the location and other evidence, it is believed the victims are Bruce Beven Burns, of Hidden Valley Lake, and Leonard Neft, of Anderson Springs, sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brooks said.
The fire’s first victim, Barbara McWilliams, 72, of Anderson Springs, was discovered Sunday.
Burns, 65, a scrap metal trader and flea market vendor, was found inside a building at his brother’s industrial recycling business, where he lived in a travel trailer and worked as a caretaker/watchman.
It’s unclear why he was in the shop, his brother, Mike Burns, said Thursday.
“It’s possible he went around to fight the fire and might have been overcome,” he said.
The family was stunned and having difficulty grasping their new reality, which included the loss of the business, Burns Enterprises, located off Highway 29 about a half-mile south of Hidden Valley Lake.
Bruce Burns did not leave when his nephew came to check on him Saturday afternoon as the fire headed toward Middletown, Mike Burns said.
“My boy left, he stayed there,” Mike Burns said.
While he was a bear of a man, Bruce Burns was in ill health and could not have fled on foot. He had diabetes and had his spleen removed some time ago. His truck was not operational, but he could have driven away on a backhoe, his brother said.