Locating the missing in fire zone a daunting task for officials

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With officials saying Wednesday that 285 people remain missing in Sonoma County alone, it remains unclear just how many people are unaccounted for in the Northern California firestorm that is now among the deadliest in state history.

Officials said lists of missing persons could include duplicated names and people who are safe but haven't told anyone. That could be because of the general confusion or because cellphone service is out across wide areas.

Some 77 cell towers were downed during the start of the fire and the state is working on creating mobile communication sites.

For family members searching for missing loved ones, the worry and fear is immeasurable. But they know they can't just sit and wait for news, and many have taken on search efforts themselves. Some from other states.

Charlene Allen lives in Utah and couldn't locate her mother, Norma Zarr, 61. A neighbor told Allen she saw the Santa Rosa woman Tuesday, but now her cell phone goes straight to voicemail. On Friday, Allen said her mother had been found safe.

She has only lived in her home for a month and Allen said she doesn’t know her mother’s roommates or how to reach them. Zarr has health problems so Allen has called at least 10 area hospitals in search of her.

While many people are filing missing persons reports with the sheriff’s office, asking for information on Facebook and calling hospitals and morgues in search of their loved ones, officials say they are doing everything they can to find the missing.

Bob and Ellen Pearson, an elderly couple from Santa Rosa, had been missing since Monday. They were reported safe Saturday and they are currently in a hotel in San Francisco. Family members in New Hampshire had been tirelessly phoning police, a missing person hotline and more than 20 hospitals.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office has dedicated their entire investigative unit to finding missing people.

They have also set up a hotline at (707) 565-3856 to file a missing persons' report.

Officials also suggest that people who are safe check in at SafeandWell.org.

Concerned family and friends can search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “search registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.