Returning Lost Loved Ones

$19,336 of $30,000 goal

Raised by 190 people in 2 months
Created November 13, 2018
Fourteen thousand homes have burned to the ground in the recent California fires.  Most of the residents have nothing left.  We need your help to give them back something precious they lost!

Many families keep the cremated remains (cremains) of their loved ones in their home. It might be temporary, until they go to a final resting place. Or it might be more permanent, as some people find comfort in having them nearby. As the victims of the fires ran for their lives, many did not have time to take the cremains. An all volunteer team of specially-trained canines and archaeologists needs your help to respond and locate / recover the cremains of these loved ones.

Lenore Hanson lost her daughter, Erin, to cancer less than year before the Santa Rosa Fire destroyed her home, taking her daughter's ashes with it. Even though Lenore lost all her possessions, she grieved most for the loss of her daughter's cremains. Lenore told us, “Just the thought of her ashes winding up in a toxic waste dump was more than I could handle.” She is pictured above hugging a team member as we confirmed Erin's cremains were found.

Pam & Nick Rasmussen also lost their family home in the Santa Rosa Fire, along with the cremains of their father and young brother. They are pictured above holding both sets of cremains alongside part of the team that located and recovered them. “Amazing. In a matter of seconds Piper closed a wound that no one else could.”

This service is offered free to the fire victims. Our team members do this on a volunteer basis; your donation will help to defer their costs. Basic expenses (travel, food, and shelter) to search 100 homes for cremains are estimated to exceed $29,000 (and we expect to get many more than 100 requests.) Any unused donations will be reserved for future volunteer responses.  ICF is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization; you will receive a receipt for your tax-deductible donation.

You can also help by sharing this with others, including victims of the fire.  The important information below needs to get to those who need our services immediately, in order to help facilitate the recovery of cremains:
• Do not disturb the area where the cremains may have been.  (We have an over 90% success rate, but only if the site is undisturbed.)
• Protect the area; contact officials and tell them there are human cremains on the site.
• Contact the Institute for Canine Forensics as soon as possible (408-981-7831) to sign-up for assistance.

The Team:
Institute for Canine Forensics  (ICF)
Alta Archaeological Consulting - Professional Archaeologist  (ALTA)
Environmental Science Associates  (ESA) 

News from previous fire responses:
       Forensic Search Dogs Sniff Out Human Ashes In Wildfire Wreckage
       Ashes to Ashes 
      Searching for Ashes Within Ashes -- Dog Teams Hunt for Human Cremains in Wildfire Wreckage 
National Geographic    
        How sniffer dogs find cremated human remains after wildfires
Redding Record Searchlight
       Searching and finding human cremains in ashes of the Carr Fire
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Update 5
Posted by Lisa Lee
3 days ago
Our team recovered 53 sets of cremains from the ruins of 49 homes this weekend in Paradise. With your donations, we have now helped 117 families recover the lost cremains of their loved one and have over 40 more requests outstanding.

We hear over and over that the cremains are the only thing survivors want from their house. Occasionally, we find a coin collection or other family heirlooms, but our clients are barely interested in them. Emotions run high, however, when we present them with the cremains of their parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, or children. Our clients are so grateful. And we are reminded why we are doing this - because no one should have to lose a loved one twice.

Through this work we come to realize there is a huge unaddressed need. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as part of their response to a declared National Disaster, will remove debris and toxic substances within wildfire areas. What their protocols don't include is to first locate and recover any human cremains. For many families affected by wildfire, the thought that their loved ones could end up in a toxic waste dump adds grief to an already tragic situation. We are asking folk to write to their representative in Congress to ask that this need be filled. Add human cremains recovery to the standard Federal response to wildfire disasters. Specifically, agencies like FEMA should mandate recovery efforts by:
- Asking victims whether cremains were kept in the homes
- Preparing a database of those victims
- Ensuring those properties are not disturbed more than necessary to support the greatest possibility of recovery
- Funding recovery efforts

...because no one should have to lose a loved one twice.
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Update 4
Posted by Lisa Lee
1 month ago
We want to say THANK YOU for getting us to the half-way mark of our fundraising! Together, we really are making a difference. Last weekend we searched the ruins of 24 homes and recovered 33 sets of cremains. There's a story behind each one of those recoveries, and a relieved and grateful family. Here's one of them...

In a previous update, we related the story of Larry Aiken and his family. The Carr Fire prevented his family from holding Larry's scheduled military burial. It was re-scheduled for November, but the Camp Fire destroyed his wife's house, along with Larry's ashes. The family had been told that the cremains had to be confirmed to be Larry or he could not be buried in a military cemetery. Larry's family was heart-broken, but hopeful that we could help. https://kmph.com/news/local/central-valley-family-dads-ashes-in-paradise

Last weekend a team of human (c)remains detection dogs and archeologists searched what was left of home. They were able to locate and recover not only Larry's cremains, but also the identification tag that accompanies them, proving that these were, in fact, Larry's remains. And now his family can give him the final resting place he wanted.

Larry's daughter, Molly said, "Thank you just really doesn’t sound like enough. I’m so emotional as this is what I’ve hoped for over 6 weeks now. Not only were you so patient but incredibly wonderful and kind. Meeting you in person today was beautiful as is your heart and passion. Your team was equally so. I am blessed to have met all of you and you will all have a very special place in our hearts. Your smiles, your laughter, your compassion, your prayers. All of it goes above and beyond anything we expected. Now, for your dogs. Oh Lynne, they are amazing animals. They did an incredible job today and nothing was possible without them. When Piper [alerted] my heart was full of hope and when your gifted team scraped through the ashes to present my dad I didn’t think I could ever be any happier than that unforgettable moment. "

Your donations help defray the expenses of our volunteer teams of dog handlers and archaeologists to continue our work and help these families. As the word spreads, we get more requests. We received 25 new requests just yesterday, putting us at over 110 requests still outstanding from folks needing our service. Please keep our efforts moving my sharing our page.

Because no one should lose a loved one twice...

Pictured are the Akin family with the recovery team and Piper & Jasper working what was left of the house
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Update 3
Posted by Lisa Lee
1 month ago
First, I want to say thanks! You all have been so supportive in so many ways, from donations, to wonderful words of encouragement, and shares of our GoFundMe page. THANK YOU! Here's another example of the difference we are making together; this one from the Woolsey Fire.

The team consisted of: 3 dogs, 2 handlers, as well as 1 archeologist experienced in cremains recovery and 3 others new to it. After a morning briefing and suiting up in personal protective equipment (PPE) they deployed to Shepha’s address. It had been an amazing, rustic, stone home before the fire. Now it is nothing but an empty shell, containing her mother, Evelyn’s, ashes.

All three dogs (Piper, Jasper, and Jett) worked a large scent pool independently before alerting. Given a general area, the archeologists went to work. This was an extremely difficult recovery due to soaking rain and the collapsed Spanish roof tiles that covered the area. As layers of debris were removed, the dogs were reworked, getting closer and closer to stronger scent. About 2.5 hours into the search, a pile of creamy pink-colored ash came into view. The dogs confirmed it was human cremains and recovery began.

3 hours after they began, the team presented Shepha with Evelyn’s ashes, including the identifying tag that accompanies the body through the cremation process. Shepha commented that our group exemplified “kindness, persistence and professionalism.” That kind of says everything about what we are all striving for in this effort. Because no one should lose a loved one twice...
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Update 2
Posted by Lisa Lee
1 month ago
We have almost 100 people still to help, but TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE! Here are the happy details of one recovery from the Camp Fire...

We received a distraught call from Paradise resident, Carol. She had to abandon her car and flee for her life. In the car were her husband’s cremains, computers containing four and a half years of research, and her four live cats. She was forced to leave it all as she was whisked away to safety. She lost everything.

A few days later, Carol was notified that her car had been towed and she immediately went to see what might be left. With the assistance of the tow company owner, Jim, she tried to find the urn. But, of course, it had been consumed in the fire.

One of our handlers, Lynne, asked Jim to send her some photos of the interior of the car. Upon review, she asked for some close-ups of a specific area. She saw what looked like cremains. After seeing the photos our archaeologists, Alex and Michael, agreed.

Another handler, Kris and her dog, Annie, were on their way home after searching all day for those who perished in the Camp Fire. She diverted to the tow yard where Annie quickly alerted, confirming that these were, in fact, cremains. Kris was able to recover the cremains, which also contained a metal disc imprinted with a number identifying the crematorium and the deceased. She also found his military dog tag. The tow company guys were blown away at Annie’s work (and Kris’s too.)

Lynne contacted Carol and asked how her day was going. “Ah, it's okay,” was the sad answer. Lynne said she had some good news and told Carol about finding her husband’s ashes. Upon hearing the news, Carol was ecstatic, weeping in relief.

Our work made one woman very, very happy. Even though she has nothing else, she got back what she wanted most, her husband's cremains.

You can help us bring closure to others who, like Carol, lost the cremains of a loved one. Don't wait for Giving Tuesday! Please help get the word out by sharing this GoFundMe campaign and donating if you can.

Because no one should have to lose a loved one twice...
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Read a Previous Update

$19,336 of $30,000 goal

Raised by 190 people in 2 months
Created November 13, 2018
Funds raised will benefit:
Institute for Canine Forensics
Certified Charity
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Woodside, CA
EIN: 943282103
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