Rain tamps down Cal­i­for­nia fire while search con­tin­ues

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY KATH­LEEN RON­AYNE

The cat­a­strophic wild­fire in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia is nearly out af­ter sev­eral days of rain, but searchers are still com­plet­ing the metic­u­lous task of comb­ing through now-muddy ash and de­bris for signs of hu­man re­mains.

Crews re­sumed the grim work Satur­day as rain cleared out of the dev­as­tated town of Par­adise. Some were look­ing through de­stroyed neigh­bor­hoods for a sec­ond time as hun­dreds of peo­ple re­main un­ac­counted for. They were search­ing for tell­tale frag­ments or bone or any­thing that looks like a pile of cre­mated ashes.

The na­tion’s dead­li­est wild­fire in a cen­tury has killed at least 84 peo­ple, and hun­dreds re­main on a list of those re­ported miss­ing. The flames ig­nited Nov. 8 in the parched Sierra Ne­vada foothills and quickly spread across 240 square miles, de­stroy­ing most of Par­adise in a day.

The fire burned down nearly 19,000 build­ings, most of them homes, and dis­placed thou­sands of peo­ple, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion said.

The two-week fire­fight got a boost Wed­nes­day from the first sig­nif­i­cant storm in months to hit Cal­i­for­nia. It dropped an es­ti­mated 7 inches of rain over the burn area over a three-day pe­riod without caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant mud­slides, said Han­nah Chan­dler-Coo­ley of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

The rain helped ex­tin­guish hotspots in smol­der­ing ar­eas, and con­tain­ment in­creased to 95 per­cent. De­spite the in­clement weather, more than 800 vol­un­teers kept search­ing for re­mains.

Crews worked on-and­off amid a down­pour Fri­day. While the rain made every­body colder and wet­ter, they kept the mis­sion in mind, said Chris Stevens, a search vol­un­teer who wore five lay­ers of cloth­ing to keep warm.

“It doesn’t change the spir­its of the guys work­ing,” he said. “Ev­ery­one here is su­per com­mit­ted to help­ing the folks here.”

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, more res­i­dents have 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 un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas of the county. At the height of the fire, 250,000 peo­ple fled their homes.

Flames erupted Nov. 8 just west of Los An­ge­les and burned through sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties and wilder­ness park­lands to the ocean. Three peo­ple died, and 1,643 build­ings, most of them homes, were de­stroyed, of­fi­cials said.

KATH­LEEN RON­AYNE AP

Steven McKnight, right, and Daniel Hansen saw through large pieces of sheet metal so they can be moved to al­low ca­daver dogs to search be­neath them for signs of hu­man re­mains at a mo­bile home park in Par­adise, Calif., on Fri­day.

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