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Fire victims’ families urged to give DNA

  • In this photo taken November 16, 2018, Stephen Meer, chief information officer from ANDE, demonstrates in Chico, Calif., his company's Rapid DNA analysis system, which is being used to try to ID victims of the Northern California wildfire. Authorities have deployed a powerful tool to aid in their race to identify the remains of 77 bodies burned in the deadly wildfire that ripped through Northern California: Rapid DNA testing that produces results in just two hours. But the technology... Sudhin Thanawala

  • File - In this Nov. 18, 2018 file photo, volunteer members of an El Dorado County search and rescue team search the ruins of a home, looking for human remains, in Paradise, Calif., following a wildfire. Authorities have deployed a powerful tool to aid in their race to identify the remains of 77 bodies burned in the deadly wildfire that ripped through Northern California: Rapid DNA testing that produces results in just two hours. But the technology that can match DNA to bone fragments in... Sudhin Thanawala

  • File - In this Nov. 15, 2018 file photo, investigators recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp Fire in Magalia, Calif. Authorities have deployed a powerful tool to aid in their race to identify the remains of 77 bodies burned in the deadly wildfire that ripped through Northern California: Rapid DNA testing that produces results in just two hours. But the technology that can match DNA to bone fragments in as little as two hours is only as effective as the numbers of people who... John Locher

Associated Press
Published: 11/20/2018 4:59:34 PM

Authorities are using a powerful tool in their effort to identify the scores of people killed by the wildfire that ripped through Northern California: rapid DNA testing that produces results in just two hours.

The system can analyze DNA from bone fragments or other remains, then match it to genetic material provided by relatives of the missing. But the technology depends on people coming forward to give a DNA sample via a cheek swab, and so far, there are not nearly as many volunteers as authorities had hoped for.

As of Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the inferno devastated the town of Paradise and surrounding areas, the number of confirmed dead stood at 79, and the sheriff’s list of those unaccounted for had about 700 names.

But only about 60 people had provided samples to pop-up labs at the Butte County Sheriff’s office in Oroville and an old Sears building in Chico, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up a disaster relief center, said Annette Mattern, a spokeswoman for ANDE, the Longmont, Colorado, company that is donating the technology.

“We need hundreds,” Mattern said. “We need a big enough sample for us to make a positive ID on these and to also give a better idea of how many losses there actually are.”

Confusion and conflicting information, the inability of relatives to travel to Northern California and mistrust of the government may be contributing to the low number.

Tara Quinones hadn’t heard anything from her uncle, David Marbury, for eight days before she drove north from the San Francisco Bay Area to give a sample Friday.

The uncle’s landlord confirmed his house burned down with his vehicle still in the garage, but Quinones had no idea if any remains were found. Marbury’s name keeps going on and off the ever-changing list of the missing.

“I did it just to be proactive,” Quinones said Monday. “This is the one way I could contribute to helping find my uncle.”




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