Cremains recovery service to help wildfire victims using archaeology


California-based Alta Heritage Foundation to help Oregon wildfire victims as part of humanitarian efforts

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A humanitarian organization hopes to help survivors of Oregon wildfires locate the cremated remains of loved ones left behind in homes as they ran for their own lives.

Using dogs and the expertise of a team of archaeologists, the Alta Heritage Foundation has helped wildfire victims locate cremains since 2017.

The California based organization has gotten dozens of requests in regard to Oregon wildfires this year and they plan to help recover cremains when it is safe to re-enter evacuation zones, Alta Heritage Foundation Associate Lynne Engelbert told KOIN 6 News.

Archaeologists with Alta Heritage Foundation work to recover cremated remains from a burned down home after the Camp Fire in Butte County, California ravaged the region in November 2018 (photo courtesy Alta Heritage Foundation).

“Recovering someone’s cremains for a family that is devastated–they’ve lost their home, they’ve lost their loved ones a second time. And giving this back to them is part of their heritage. It’s a humanitarian effort,” Engelbert said.

The organization has a high recovery rate, despite the urns themselves often being destroyed by fires.

It may seem like an impossible task to differentiate human cremains among a giant pile of ash from a burned down home, but the dogs are there to catch its scent and the archaeologists can visually identify them once found.

One thing that makes it harder to recover the cremains is when people come back to the site and disturb it, so it is advised that people wishing to recover cremains from their home leave the area untouched until the archaeology team can arrive to do their work.

The service is free and people can submit a request to

The organization also accepts donations to keep their services going, which can be done through their website.

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