Tuesday 18 December 2018

First rain in months douses California wildfire, raises risk of mudslides

PG&E crew work to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, US November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
PG&E crew work to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, US November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The first significant rain in months in northern California all but extinguished the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history on Wednesday but also raised risks of flash flooding that could hinder teams searching for human remains.

Between 4-6 inches (102-152 mm) of rain was expected to fall through the weekend in areas around the town of Paradise, the community of nearly 27,000 people 175 miles (280 km) northeast of San Francisco that was largely incinerated by the so-called Camp Fire.

The blaze killed at least 83 people and 563 remain unaccounted for, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news briefing.

“The rain is a concern for us and there is the potential for mudflows,” Honea said. Searchers would be pulled out of areas threatened by mudslides, he said.

The storm added to the misery of evacuees camped out in a Walmart parking lot in nearby Chico.

Mitchell Manley was cold and wet but thankful he persuaded his elderly mother to evacuate. He said most of the dead were retirees who thought they could ride out the flames in their homes.

Tim Billow, 62, tries to save his plantings in his backyard as the Woolsey Fire burns in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea. Winds are blamed for pushing the fire through scenic canyon communities and ridgetop homes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Tim Billow, 62, tries to save his plantings in his backyard as the Woolsey Fire burns in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea. Winds are blamed for pushing the fire through scenic canyon communities and ridgetop homes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers discover bone fragments inside a burned vehicle in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers inspect remains near a burned out vehicle off a dirt road in Concow, California on November 11, 2018 after the Camp fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Water from a firetruck douses flames and smoke near homes in West Hills, California, on November 11, 2018, as firefighters continue their battle to control the Woolsey Fire. - Near Los Angeles, where the fire is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has so far been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers write on a body bag after loading a body into a hearse in Concow, California, on November 11, 2018 after the Camp Fire ripped through the area. - The death toll from the devastating California wildfire has matched that of the deadliest to hit the state, with 29 people killed, a local sheriff said on November 11. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
The burnt out remains of a vehicle is seen at a home in the beachside community of Point Dume in Malibu, California on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters douse burning embers off Kanan Dume Road, a canyon road which cuts across the mountains to Malibu, California on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
This photo shows the remains of a beachside luxury home along the Pacific Coast Highway community of Point Dume in Malibu, California, on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Burning embers remain amidst the destruction of a beachside luxury home along the Pacific Coast Highway community of Point Dume in Malibu, California, on November 11, 2018, as the battle to control the Woolsey Fire continues. - Near Los Angeles, where the "Woolsey Fire" is threatening mansions and mobile homes alike in the coastal celebrity redoubt of Malibu, the death toll has been limited to two victims found in a vehicle on a private driveway. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
MALIBU, CA - NOV 11: Firefighters battle a blaze at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOV 11: A fire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A wildfire burns at the Salvation Army Camp on November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California. The Woolsey fire has burned over 70,000 acres and has reached the Pacific Coast at Malibu as it continues grow. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A burnt car and a gas station remain visible after the "Camp" fire tore through the region near Pulga, east of Paradise, California on November 11, 2018. - Search teams scoured the carnage of California's most destructive ever wildfire for victims on Sunday, as the state-wide death toll rose to 26 with high winds hampering the effort to rescue property and save lives. At least 23 people have lost their lives in and around the Paradise community of 27,000, according to an official count by authorities. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California, on November 10, 2018. - The death toll from the most destructive fire to hit California rose to 23 on November 10 as rescue workers recovered more bodies of people killed by the devastating blaze. Ten of the bodies were found in the town of Paradise while four were discovered in the Concow area, both in Butte County. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Yuba County Sheriff officers carry a body away from a burned residence in Paradise, California, on November 10, 2018. - Firefighters in California on November 10 battled raging blazes at both ends of the state that have left at least nine people dead and thousands of homes destroyed, but there was little hope of containing the flames anytime soon. So far, all nine fatalities were reported in the town of Paradise, in Butte County, where more than 6,700 buildings, most of them residences, have been consumed by the late-season inferno, which is now California's most destructive fire on record. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

“I was lucky to get her out, she was going to sit it out,” said Manley, who was camping at Walmart while he waited to go back to his home in Concow.

Warehouses were opened in Chico to provide evacuees protection from the cold and rain as celebrity chef Jose Andres prepared to cook hundreds of Thanksgiving meals for evacuees.

Some 830 people had signed up to spend their Thanksgiving combing through ash and rubble in forecast heavy rain, searching for human remains, Honea said.

STRAW TUBES

The rains, which in some areas were likely to be accompanied by winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph), raised risks of ravines turning into rivers of mud. The fire has burned across 153,336 acres (62,000 hectares) of the Sierra foothills and is 85 percent contained.

A view of land for sale in the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in Malibu, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A view of land for sale in the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in Malibu, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Burned hills are seen as firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
A firefighter rests after helping to find human remains found at a burned out home at the Camp Fire, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)
As the Camp Fire burns nearby, a scorched car rests by gas pumps near Pulga, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Downed power lines and debris are seen along Mulholland Highway in the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in Malibu, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
The burnt wreckage of a vehicle is seen along a road as a flames are seen, in the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in Malibu, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
The burnt wreckage of a vehicle is seen along a road in the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in Malibu, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Cathy Fallon (C) who stayed behind to tend to her horses during the Camp Fire, embraces Shawna De Long (L) and April Smith who brought supplies for the horses in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Brad Bowen hands out respirators outside Neighbourhood Church of Chico which serves as an emergency shelter for those displaced by the Camp Fire in Chico, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Aaron Smith (R) with All About Equine Veterinary Services drops a pile of hay for a horse owner who stayed with her horses during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire is seen in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Cathy Fallon (C) who stayed behind to tend to her horses during the Camp Fire, embraces Shawna De Long (L) and April Smith who brought supplies for the horses in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Firefighters and prison crews battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters spray water from a fire truck as they battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Residents gather as fire crews battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters work on hoses next to fire trucks as they battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters spray water from a fire truck as they battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Firefighter sprays water from a hose as smoke is seen, while they battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Residents gather as fire crews battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Prison firefighting crews battle the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A firefighter battles the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A fire captain surveys a site as he directs fire crews battling the Woolsey fire in West Hills, Southern California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“There’s no vegetation to hold the earth and there’s a risk it could just start moving, with mud carrying everything in its path,” National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell said in Sacramento.

Firefighters installed straw tubes known as wattles to stop hillsides being washed away.

“With the heavy rains, the fire activity is practically nothing,” said Cal Fire Operation Section Chief Josh Bishop.

The death toll has been gradually rising, with two more names added to the list on Wednesday to bring the total to 83 people, with 58 of them tentatively identified, Honea said.

The number of people unaccounted for, which has fluctuated widely over the past week, declined by 307.

Asked about the effects of rain on the search for remains, Honea said it would make going through debris more difficult but he was less concerned about remains washing away than the headaches posed by mud.

Still, he said some remains might never be found.

After wildfires, California eyes rain, possible mudslides

“What we’re looking for in many respects are very small bone fragments so, as we go forward, it’s certainly possible that not all of them will be located,” Honea said.

The Camp Fire incinerated 13,503 homes in and around Paradise. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The state is undertaking the largest single wildfire cleanup operation in its history to remove toxic and radioactive ash and debris at burned home sites, said Eric Lamoureux from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Butte County says evidence from recent fires in California showed that some destroyed homes and property contained “high and concerning levels of heavy metals, lead, mercury, dioxin, arsenic and other carcinogens. Some property may have the presence of radioactive materials.”

Reuters

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