Rapid DNA Testing Used to Identify Camp Fire Victims, Help Families Find Closure

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CHICO -- The rain cleared out of Butte County Saturday, allowing crews to get back to work; searching for those who died in the Camp Fire.

The death toll climbed to 85 but, many have not yet been identified.

It's a grim task for one of the teams working to bring families with missing loved ones some peace.

After crews find human remains, it’s up to DNA specialists to figure out who those victims are.

Sorting through ash and rubble, search and rescue crews are working round the clock to bring answers for families with missing love ones.

“We have been able to get usable DNA data off of about 80% of the remains we’ve tested,” said Jim Davis.

Davis is the Chief Federal Officer with ANDE, a company that’s providing rapid DNA testing for victims, for free.

Many victims from the fire can't be identified through traditional methods like dental records because they were too badly burned so, DNA is often the best option.

“We take all the chemistry currently done in the laboratory and we put it on a small chip,” said Davis.

The operator puts the DNA sample into a vial and inserts it into ANDE’s instrument, which works to map out genetic material in roughly two hours.

“As days go by, tissue and blood degrade in value for DNA collection. So, what we’re left with is bones and teeth. And our instrument works very well in collecting data from bones and teeth,” said Davis.

However, they can only use DNA to identify the dead if family members give their DNA to cross-reference.

All family members have to do is get their cheek swabbed at the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

“We believe that we can bring closure to family members, quicker than has been done previously,” Davis said.

DNA Specialists say they’re having a hard time getting families members with missing loved ones to give out their DNA samples.

Many don’t even want to consider that their loved ones could be gone but, officials urge anyone with a missing family member to give a sample; it could bring them some closure.

If you are out of town, you can be swabbed at local law enforcement offices all over the country.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has set up a website to explain the process.


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