Search for mother trapped in fires ends in heartbreak
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Jessica Tunis screamed at her mother to run out of the burning house but Linda Tunis said she was trapped, there was fire everywhere, and the last thing she said to her daughter was that she was going die before the call dropped.
The younger Tunis immediately called 911 early Monday, but didn’t know if they rescued her 69-year-old mom before her house was leveled in wildfires that swept Northern California’s wine country.
She turned to social media, along with hundreds of others looking for loved ones. She posted a picture of her mother smiling at a café with the caption, “Does anyone know if Journey’s End Mobile Home Park got evacuated before it burned down? I can’t find my mom, Linda Tunis.”
The post spawned more than 100 comments, largely from strangers who offered encouragement and tips, she told an AP reporter Tuesday night. Some even went to shelters to search for the woman who loved bingo and the beach.
“I’ve had people going to shelters for me because of Facebook,” Tunis said. “It does help. For sure. Anything helps.”
As of Wednesday, 22 wildfires were burning in Northern California, up from 17 the day before. The blazes killed at least 21 people and destroyed an estimated 3,500 homes and businesses, many of them in California’s wine country.
Sonoma County authorities said they didn’t have the resources to look for missing people with fires spreading and more evacuations.
Jessica Tunis hoped desperately that her mother was somewhere safe, unable to tell people who she was. The family continued calling hospitals seeking Jane Does and hitting up evacuation centers.
On Wednesday, her brother Robert Tunis picked through the debris where his mother’s house once stood, searching for clues to what happened to her.
“She’s spunky, she’s sweet, she loves bingo and she loves the beach, she loves her family,” said Jessica Tunis on Wednesday, crying. “Please help me find her. I need her back. I don’t want to lose my mom.”
Hours later Tunis texted an AP reporter to say her brother had found their mother’s remains among the debris. Authorities put the remains of the 69-year-old woman in a small white plastic bag and strapped it to a gurney before taking it away.
Jessica Tunis didn’t forget to update her friends on Facebook:
“My mother’s remains have been found at her home at Journey’s End. May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma.”