Grim work. Cadaver dogs key in search for fire victims

By  | 

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Mary Cablk and Inca are back home now, enjoying some of the active play time Inca enjoys and her high-energy personality demands.

A game of tug of war is far removed from the grim task they took on in the ruined landscape of Paradise, California.

As the whole world now knows, the Camp Fire reduced the community to ashes, taking a number of lives which are still being tallied.

As that number rises, a much bigger one still looms, the hundreds who are still reported missing. Finding them, hopefully alive somewhere, or tragically among these ruins, is a task that will continue for weeks yet.

"I can't imagine losing someone and not knowing where they ended up," says Cablk. "I would want to know."

The destruction is so complete, little that is recognizable remains, including, often, its human victims. That's where Inca's incredible abilities and those of other cadaver dogs comes in.

"It's not something that can easily be measured, but we see them find old remains, we see them find traces, we see them find tiny bits."

Inca is a five-year-old Belgian Malinois, a breed known for its unflagging drive, at play or work. And when it's time to work, she is, Cablk says, focused and determined.

Based in Reno and, often called on by the Washoe County Sheriff's Office, they are veterans of a number of searches. Paradise, however, was different.

"I will tell you the extent of the devastation in this particular fire is unlike any I've ever seen. It's tragic. It's hazardous. It's toxic, coupled with some real physical hazards for the dogs and the humans."

Searchers need and wear protective suits, helmets, gloves, breathing masks. The dogs can't.

"Canines are the ones that have their face down in that ash. They're the ones that are getting the inhalation and the direct contact with all that's left behind and it's really nasty."

Hazardous, but also work most could find depressing.

"We can't change the outcome for the people who perished. We couldn't have prevented that in any way. But we can change the outcome for their families and the people who are still here."

And having now seen the worst, she has a message for anyone in the path of a wildfire.

"It is critical when you get an evacuation order that you get out."