Rain helps mostly douse California fire but slows searchers

Rain helps mostly douse California fire but slows searchers

PARADISE, Calif. — A deadly wildfire is nearly contained after several days of rain in Northern California, but searchers are still completing the meticulous task of combing through now-muddy ash and debris for signs of human remains.

Crews planned to resume the grim task Saturday after working on-and-off the day before amid a downpour in the devastated town of Paradise. Some are now looking through destroyed neighbourhoods for a second time as hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. They’re searching for telltale fragments or bone or anything that looks like a pile of cremated ashes.

Searchers wore yellow rain slickers and hard hats to protect against falling branches Friday as they looked for clues that may indicate someone couldn’t get out of their home, such as a car in the driveway or a wheelchair ramp. Craig Covey, who led a team out of Southern California’s Orange County, temporarily pulled his 30-member team off the search as heavy rain and wind knocked down trees.

The nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century has killed at least 84 people, and 475 are unaccounted for. Despite the inclement weather, more than 800 volunteers searched for remains on Thanksgiving and again Friday, two weeks after flames swept through the Sierra Nevada foothills, authorities said.

While rain complicated the search, it also helped nearly extinguish the blaze, said Josh Bischof, operations chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Camp Fire ignited Nov. 8 and has destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes. That’s more than the worst eight fires in California’s history combined, the agency said, with thousands of people displaced.

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.”

When Covey and several team members were delayed by rain Friday, they took two big brown bags full of lunch to 64-year-old Stewart Nugent, who stayed in his home and fought off flames with a garden house, a sprinkler and a shovel. He has been there for two weeks with his cat, Larry.

The first winter storm to hit California has dropped 2 to 4 inches of rain over the burn area since it began Wednesday, said Craig Shoemaker with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The weather service issued a warning for possible flash flooding and debris flows from areas scarred by major fires in Northern California, including the areas burned in Paradise. But Shoemaker said the rain didn’t fall hard enough Friday to cause serious problems. Light showers were expected Saturday, he said.

In Southern California, more residents were allowed to return to areas that were evacuated because of the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometre) Woolsey Fire as crews worked to repair power, telephone and gas utilities.

About 1,100 residents were still under evacuation orders in Malibu and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, down from 250,000 at the height of the fire.

The fire erupted amid strong winds Nov. 8 just west of Los Angeles and burned through suburban communities and wilderness parklands to the ocean, leaving vast areas of blackened earth and many homes in ashes. Three people were found dead, and 1,643 buildings, most of them homes, were destroyed, officials said.

In Northern California, the searchers tried to keep their minds on the task rather than the tragic situation.

“The guys will never say it’s hard,” crew member David Kang said. “But it is.”

__

Associated Press journalists Olga Rodriguez and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed.

Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Rain helps mostly douse California fire but slows searchers

Just Posted

Eighteen inmates and four staff at Red Deer Remand Centre have tested positive for COVID-19. Advocate file photo
Red Deer Remand Centre up to 22 COVID cases

Eighteen inmates and four remand centre staff areactive COVID cases

Christine Cornelius, department manager at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre, prepares seed racks at the Red Deer County shop. (By SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta gardeners already buying seeds to prepare for spring

Potatoes and carrots popular choices for backyard gardens

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Red Deer’s newest Waskasoo Park trail offers some bird’s-eye views of the city. It runs along the Highland Green escarpment, between Howarth Street Close and 60th Street. More information is available on reddeer.ca. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
PHOTO: New Red Deer trail offers hikers a bird’s-eye view

It links Howarth Street Close with 60th Street

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele, left, and Kyle Connor, right, congratulate Blake Wheeler on his goal during second period NHL action against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, January 21, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Four different Jets score as Winnipeg beats the Ottawa Senators 4-1

Four different Jets score as Winnipeg beats the Ottawa Senators 4-1

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Team Stecklein forward Allie Thunstrom (9) shoots against Team Szabados goalie Shannon Szabados in the NWHL All-Star Hockey Game Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Humphrey
NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

United States defender Aaron Long (23) and Canada forward Lucas Cavallini (19) battle for the ball during second half of CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

FC Dallas forward Fafa Picault, left, steps into a kick as Nashville SC midfielder Alistair Johnston (12) defends during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. A dozen Canadians are available in Thursday's slimmed-down MLS SuperDraft, reduced to three rounds from four this year. While the draft is not the pipeline it once was, the success of players like Johnston, taken 11th overall last year by expansion Nashville SC, show there are still success stories.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

A man wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver Wednesday, November 18, 2020.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

Most Read