“It’s becoming more common for these catastrophic events and this is one of the ways archeology is stepping in and helping the community bounce back,” said SOU archaeologist, Chelsea Rose.
A group of 30 professional archaeologists are teaming together from California and Southern Oregon University to search for cremains people left behind by evacuees during the Almeda Fire.
“By the end of this weekend, we will have excavated over 300 home sites and [we’ve collected] well greater than that number for cremated remains,” said Alex DeGeorgey, the president of Alta Heritage Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit coalition of archaeologists who locate missing servicemen and cremains from areas hit by wildfire.
DeGeorgey has 4 teams in the Talent area, going over sites with home owners, searching for their loved one’s ashes. But, archaeologists say they aren’t the only ones who are looking, or rather, sniffing.
A forensic canine team is used to track the scent of remains. “These dogs are trained to alert on human ashes,” said DeGeorgey.
The trained dogs play a huge part according to Rose. She says finding human ashes in the rubble can be tricky.
“Sometimes there’s landmarks that you can go in and find, but if you don’t have the tools, or it’s on the first story of a two story house, or if the container it was in burned – then it’s really helpful to have that dog assist to narrow in what you’re looking for,” Rose said.
DeGeorgey says there’s a small way to differentiate between human ash and regular fire debris.
“Human cremains have a certain textural color qualities that are different than the ashes of a building,” he said.
“This is one example how of the ways our unique skills can be applied to modern needs,” added Rose.
If you were affected by the fire and would like help recovering a loved one’s lost cremains, visit altaheritagefoundation.org.
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