72-year-old Northern CA woman ID'd as victim killed in devastating Maui wildfires, officials say

Her daughter said she had been vacationing in Maui

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Thursday, August 24, 2023
72-year-old CA woman ID'd as victim killed in Maui wildfire: officials
A Northern California woman has been identified as one of the victims killed in the massive wildfires in Lahaina, officials said.

EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. -- A Northern California woman has been identified as one of the victims killed in the wildfire in Lahaina, Maui officials said on Wednesday.

Theresa Cook, 72, from Pollock Pines in El Dorado County has been identified as one of the deceased victims.

Her daughter said she had been vacationing on Maui, staying at the Best Western Pioneer Inn.

Cook was last seen near the Banyan tree at 5:30 p.m. around the time fire raced through the area on August 8.

MORE: Maui's emergency services chief resigns after facing criticism for not activating sirens during fire

She was one of eight victims whose identities were released by Maui officials on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the latest death toll stands at 115 and is expected to grow as officials recover more missing bodies.

Authorities in Hawaii pleaded with relatives of those missing after the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century to come forward and give DNA samples, saying the low number provided so far threatens to hinder efforts to identify any remains discovered in the ashes.

"With those two things if we're able to capture DNA from a victim, capture the DNA from a family member we can 100% say that, that person was related to the person we collected DNA from," Steven Merrill, Honolulu Special Agent in Charge, said.

VIDEO: Drive through Lahaina neighborhood reveals apocalyptic scene after deadly wildfire

Video shows an apocalyptic scene as a group drives through Lahaina, Maui neighborhoods where a wildfire destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

The FBI has an evidence response team. Merrill said the team is a combination of agents and professional support staff which are working at the morgue trying to develop forensic evidence and information from the deceased victims that are recovered.

Some 1,000 to 1,100 names remain on the FBI's tentative, unconfirmed list of people unaccounted for after wildfires destroyed the historic seaside community of Lahaina on Maui. But the family assistance center so far has collected DNA from just 104 families, said Julie French, who is helping lead efforts to identify remains by DNA analysis.

Maui Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin, who is running the center, said that the number of family members coming in to provide DNA samples is "a lot lower" than in other major disasters around the country, though it wasn't immediately clear why.

"That's our concern, that's why I'm here today, that's why I'm asking for this help," he said.

MORE: Maui wildfire victims include man found shielding beloved pet dog, local know as 'Uncle Joe'

Martin and French sought to reassure people that any samples would be used only to help identify fire victims and would not be entered into any law enforcement databases or used for any other purpose. People will not be not asked about their immigration status or citizenship, they said.

"What we want to do - all we want to do - is help people locate and identify their unaccounted-for loved ones," Martin said.

All single-story, residential properties in the disaster area had been searched, and teams were transitioning to searching multi-story residential and commercial properties, Maui County officials said in an update late Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report