Friday 20 September 2019

Firefighters finally get devastating California inferno under control

A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California earlier this month. Photo: Reuters
A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California earlier this month. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Hay

The deadliest wildfire in California history that destroyed the mountain town of Paradise and killed at least 85 people was 100pc contained by yesterday, according to state fire officials.

The number of people still missing from the Camp Fire north of San Francisco dropped to 249, the Butte County Sheriff's Office said. The number was revised down from 475 as people who were believed missing were found in shelters, staying in hotels or with friends, officials said, adding that many did not know they were on the list.

The Camp Fire that started on November 8 destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned nearly 62,000 hectares - an area five times the size of San Francisco.

Searchers will have a few more days of dry weather, but starting late tomorrow, another 5-13cm of rain is expected to drop on the Sierra Nevada foothills between then and Sunday, hampering the searchers' work and renewing fears of flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.

"The fear is that the rain will drop in intense bursts," Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the federal Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland, said.

"All the vegetation has burned away, and that's a dangerous recipe for mudslides," Mr Hurley said.

Last week, 5-8cm of rain fell there and turned ash from the thousands of destroyed homes into slurry, complicating the work of finding bodies reduced to bone fragments.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has warned that remains of some victims may never be found. The town of Paradise was a popular destination for retirees, with people aged 65 or older accounting for a quarter of its 27,000 residents.

Most of the victims of the fire identified so far were of retirement age.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

Thousands of people forced to flee Paradise spent the Thanksgiving holiday in warehouses in the nearby city of Chico, or with friends or relatives in nearby towns.

In southern California, more residents returned to areas evacuated in a destructive fire as crews repaired power, telephone and gas utilities.

Los Angeles county sheriff's officials said they were in the last phase of repopulating Malibu and other areas of the county.

At the height of the fire, 250,000 fled their homes.

Irish Independent

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