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Dogs help wildfire survivors recover their most precious possession: Human cremains

By Linda Childers | December 29, 2018

CHICO, Calif. — Larry Woodward surveyed the charred ruins of his 1,700-square foot home, the blackened brick fireplace among the few recognizable items that survived the flames.

The 73-year-old widower pointed to the mantel that once held his wife’s urn. His most precious possession was now missing, lost amid the ashes created by California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in history.

 Photo by: Mason Trinca for The Washington Post

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Even the ashes of late loved ones were lost in Paradise. Enter archaeologists and canines

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A tag was found during this cremains recovery. It identifies the crematory and individual cremated. All cremains have an ID tag that goes through the cremation process with the deceased person.

By Michael McGough | January 17, 2019

Paradise, Calif. — Amanda Gehrett stood at the top of the steps that once led to the front door of her Paradise home, her hands clasped, watching below as a handful of men and women in dirty white coveralls sifted through the ruins on a sunny Saturday morning.


The wreckage of her former home now contained piles of debris 4 feet high clumped against its remaining basement foundation. Her two-story home had no structure left – no walls, no roof, not even a brick chimney as some neighbors’ places did. Nothing that resembled the exterior of a house except the brick entryway on which she stood and the crumpled wreckage of a garage door.

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Search dogs and archaeologists look for cremated remains amid a wildfire's debris

By DAVID MONTERODecember 06, 2018

Shepha Schneirsohn Vainstein didn’t know where her mom was.


The smashed red tile roof of her Agoura Hills home had become the floor. The fireplace was now exposed, its stony chimney set hard against a blue morning sky. A brick oven survived in the kitchen. A washer and dryer a few feet away — scorched and scarred by flames — did not.


Around the corner, or where a corner once was marked by walls, was where she remembered her mom, Evelyn Estrellita Schneirsohn, last being. But then she remembered she’d also kept her cremated ashes on a curled maple credenza in a hallway near the bathroom for a time after she died over the summer at age 89.

Things have been blurry since the Woolsey fire began last month. Escape had been quick and the scale of destruction wasn’t clear until Vainstein came back last weekend to try to find her mom’s ashes in the deep piles of soggy debris.

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How sniffer dogs find cremated human remains after wildfires

BY LORI CUTHBERT | Published October 30, 2018

NOBODY SHOULD HAVE to lose a loved one twice. Some dogs are helping to prevent that from happening.

When wildfires like the ones that ravaged California this summer sweep into a neighborhood, there is no time to collect valuables. Homeowners flee with bare essentials. Among the precious things that must be left include cremated remains, or cremains, often stored in a receptacle kept on a shelf or mantle. But now, professionally trained detection dogs are being dispatched to recover these human ashes from the charred ruins of destroyed homes.


These dogs are coming to Redding to search for human ashes among Carr Fire ashes

Jessica Skropanic, Redding Record Searchlight

Published. Sept 13, 2018


A team of working dogs and their owners will come to Shasta County to help people who lost more than their homes in the Carr Fire

Dogs trained to sniff out human cremains of loved ones will sift through burned homesteads. Once they identify cremains, archaeologists gather and return the cremains to their owner.

“They (dogs) work until they find what they think is the strongest source of scent and that’s when they give the alert," said Lynne Engelbert of the Institute for Canine Forensics. “We’ve been doing human remains detection for many years with law ...

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Searching for Ashes Within Ashes — Dog Teams Hunt for Human Cremains in Wildfire Wreckage

By April Dembosky | Published on January 9, 2018

When Kathy Lampi's mom died of cancer last June, she placed the velvet bag filled with her mom's ashes on a shelf in her china cabinet. Lampi thought that was a fitting place for her mom to rest until she could plan a proper burial.

Then in October the Wine Country fires reduced Lampi’s two-story Santa Rosa house to 6 inches of rubble. Her mom’s ashes were now mixed in with the ashes of her sofa and front door.

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KQED Perspectives: Ashes to Ashes


By Mike Newland | Published on December 6, 2017

Among the last treasures you'd think to hustle from a burning home might be the already-ashy cremains of lost loved ones. But as archaeologist Mike Newland discovered, the power of recovering them can be overwhelming...

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