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  1. (CNN)Reinforcements from other regions are helping firefighters contain more of the largest wildfires devastating Northern California, though strong winds expected over the weekend could challenge those gains, a fire chief said Friday. Meanwhile, officials are making grim discoveries -- victims burnt beyond recognition -- as they search blackened ruins of some of the 5,700 homes and business that have been destroyed. "Some of (the remains) are merely ashes and bones," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said at a Thursday evening news conference. "And we may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes. When you're cremated, you can't get an ID." Thirty-six people have been killed since the wildfires began Sunday night, making this outbreak one of the deadliest in state history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Read more:
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  2. By Margaret Matray The Virginian-Pilot Sep 21, 2017 Updated 25 min ago CHESAPEAKE Cynthia Wright called and called, but her sister’s voicemail box was full. A four-alarm fire had engulfed the apartment complex where Wright’s sister and niece lived. And she couldn’t find either of them. Wright’s brother drove to the apartments but couldn’t get any information about where Saundra and Lydia Somerville had gone. Wright called the hospitals but turned up nothing. She thought they must be with friends, that it would be only a matter of time before the family found them. The next day, a family friend called: Rumors were swirling that Saundra and Lydia had died. After authorities accounted for all other residents, after they identified 61-year-old Cynthia Martenis as one of three people who died in the July 15 blaze, Wright said a fire marshal suggested the family wait to hold any services until they could confirm the identities of the other two victims. Wright said DNA and other tests were needed. This week – two months after they died – authorities publicly identified Saundra Somerville, 64, and her 30-year-old daughter, Lydia Somerville, as the remaining two victims of a fire caused by lightning at Chesapeake Crossing Senior Community Apartments. “It has been a long wait. … God has played a great part in helping us to deal with this,” Wright said. Wright said her sister and niece are not forgotten; the family thinks of them every day. A service has been planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 681 Oak Grove Road, in Chesapeake. “It’s just sad,” she said, “how both of them went.” Wright said her sister and niece lived together at the apartment complex. They were an inseparable pair. “You saw one, you saw the other,” Wright said. Saundra Somerville loved to sing and was known for her cooking – homemade hot rolls and potato salad were her specialties. She grew up in Deep Creek, the oldest of nine siblings. As a young girl, she liked to whip up Rice Krispies Treats for her younger brothers and sisters. Wright looked up to her. Her passion for cooking stuck with her . She retired several years ago from Chesapeake Public Schools, where she worked as a manager in the food service department, Wright said. “It was no wonder she ended up in food service,” she said. “She loved what she did.” Lydia Somerville, an only child, was witty and bubbly. She once worked at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center , Wright said. Both women were Jehovah’s Witnesses and dedicated to their faith. Wright saw her niece for the last time the Sunday before the fire. Wright stopped by the apartment complex to drop off a gift for her sister – Love and White Diamonds, an Elizabeth Taylor perfume. Wright said her sister called before Wright was out of the parking lot to talk about the present, a new fragrance in a perfume line they both liked. Usually when they got off the phone, the sisters would say they’d talk to each other later. But that Sunday was different, Wright said. “I said, ‘I love you.’ And she said, ‘I love you, too,’ ” Wright recalled. “And those were the last words we shared.” Margaret Matray
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  3. Community rallies around house fire family THE BILOELA community has rallied around the young family who lost their house and family pets in a house fire at the weekend. Family friend Kirrilly McCabe set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the family just hours after the home was destroyed. "I just thought about how we would cope in that situation - they literally were in the car and just had the clothes on their back," she said. "They're also both not the type to ask for help. I wasn't sure how (they) would react, but I've spoken to the mother since and she's just extremely grateful that someone has sort of taken the reins." Mrs McCabe said the community response was instant and overwhelming. "The community's been really generous - not just through the GoFundMe but we've also had a drop off point and people have been dropping stuff off all week. "Some of the online donations have come from people that we know through a mutual facebook group - one was in Victoria and one was from New South Wales. "We've also gotten heaps of other donations from around town and vouchers from local businesses. One business even set up a money tin on the counter." Physical donations were so numerous that Mrs McCabe had to post an update on Tuesday night letting people know that the family had reached capacity and needed to spend some time sorting through what they have been given. The mother of the family, who said they wish to remain anonymous, told the Central Telegraph that members of the local Jehovah's Witnesses church had paid for a hotel for the first two nights before her partner's work was able to step in and arrange emergency accommodation. "The support's been overwhelming, I just want to express our heartfelt gratitude to the community that's been there to support us through this rough time," she said. "Kirrilly has been amazing. Our online and real life communities have sort of come together." She said she and her partner were trying not to dwell on the fire by keeping themselves busy with day-to-day tasks and setting things up at their new place. "The kids are too young to really know what's going on - (my son) doesn't really understand why we can't go back," she said. "We're just going through donations and dealing with insurance at the moment." Organisers of upcoming pre-loved fashion markets at the PCYC have been in contact with the family about fundraising in the coming months so that support will continue "when the dust has settled." Donations to the GoFundMe appeal can be made here.
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