Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rain douses US wildfire but raises the risk of mudslides

Dinner: Wildfire evacuees wait in line to get a free Thanksgiving meal. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Dinner: Wildfire evacuees wait in line to get a free Thanksgiving meal. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elijah Nouvelage

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

Between 4-6 inches of rain was expected to fall over the weekend in areas around the town of Paradise, the community of nearly 27,000 people 280km northeast of San Francisco that was largely incinerated by the wildfire.

The blaze killed at least 83 people and 563 remain unaccounted for, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.

"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.

"I was lucky, she was going to sit it out," said Mr 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.

The rains, which in some areas were likely to be accompanied by winds of up to 72kmh, raised risks of ravines turning into rivers of mud. The fire has burned across 153,336 acres of the Sierra foothills and is 85pc contained.

"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.

The death toll has been rising steadily, and now stands at 83 people, with 58 of them tentatively identified, Mr Honea said.

Irish Independent

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