Leia Carrico, 8, and Caroline Carrico, 5, were found “safe and sound” on Sunday morning by a fire captain and firefighter who had followed the girls’ boot tracks, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said.
“This is an absolute miracle,” he said.
Though the girls were dehydrated and cold, they were uninjured and “in good spirits,” Honsal said.
He said the girls were trained in outdoor survival through their local 4-H club and that authorities believed that helped them. They also were wearing boots and had eaten granola bars at some point while they were missing, he said.
“To have a positive outcome like this is just absolutely amazing,” Honsal said.
Using helicopters and tracking dogs, dozens of police and rescue personnel combed a vast and rugged rural area in the frantic search for the sisters.
The girls had last been seen around 2:30 p.m. Friday outside their home in Benbow, a small community about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northwest of Sacramento.
The searchers included National Guard members from Fresno and the U.S. Coast Guard, which provided one of its helicopters on top of a Black Hawk helicopter also being used.
Rescuers were hopeful about finding the girls Saturday after they came across prints from the girls’ rubber boots and wrappers from the granola bars, Lt. Mike Fridley said.
“The wrappers showed us a direction from where they started to where the wrappers ended up at,” Fridley said.
Fridley said he was the one who got to call the girls’ mother and tell them her daughters were alive.
“She melted on the phone,” he said.
Honsal described the search area as vast, rugged and rural and the conditions as cold and sporadically rainy.