By Steve Large

BUTTE COUNTY (CBS13) — The Butte County Sheriff Department is harnessing the power of DNA in an effort to quickly identify human remains. The sheriff is asking relatives with missing family to volunteer their own DNA using a cheek swab, to help them make a match.

“It’s like a knot in the pit of your stomach,” said Rachel Vaughn, describing the anxiety-filled feeling of having a family member missing after the Camp Fire.

“It’s just torture,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn and her family are evacuated and had been searching for her uncle — before finally locating him, putting her mind at ease.

For the families still searching, signs reading “missing person DNA” are now up in the Camp Fire Disaster Response Center in Chico.

READ: Rebuilding Paradise: Evacuees Return Home To Find Devastation, Miracles

The signs direct families to a secluded area in a closed section of the building, to give their DNA samples that could lead to a match with remains located inside the Camp Fire burn zone.

A Company named “ANDE” donated its technology to help make the genetic matches within just two hours of processing the samples.

“At this point we are working full speed with the coroner to identify remains and have been working with the Sheriff and Department of Justice to collect DNA samples of immediate family members,” ANDE spokesperson Stephen Meer said.

There are hundreds still listed as missing from the Camp Fire. The number of confirmed fatalities now stands at 81, with 56 victims identified, 25 unidentified.

ALSO: Burn Victims Escape Camp Fire But Have A Long Road To Recovery

ANDE spokesperson Annette Mattern says they need more family members of the missing to submit samples — which is as simple as swabbing the inside of their cheek.

“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.”

It is an unprecedented disaster, leaving a city destroyed

“It doesn’t even feel real yet,” Vaughn said.

Now the key to identifying this wildfire’s victims is in their DNA. The Butte County Sheriff was working on a plan to increase the number of DNA samples they are receiving. An announcement on possible new locations relatives could submit their samples, was expected to be made Wednesday.


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