Californians left homeless by wildfire brace for new bout of misery

A house destroyed by the Camp Fire is seen in Paradise, California. Picture: Terray Sylvester/Reuters

A house destroyed by the Camp Fire is seen in Paradise, California. Picture: Terray Sylvester/Reuters

Published Nov 21, 2018


California - Northern California

residents left homeless by the deadliest, most destructive

wildfire in state history braced for a new bout of misery on

Tuesday from showers expected to plunge encampments of evacuees

into rain-soaked fields of mud.

The impending Pacific storm was also certain to hinder

search teams sifting through ash and rubble for remains of

additional victims in a disaster that already has claimed at

least 81 lives and left hundreds more missing.

As much as 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was expected to fall

over several days starting early on Wednesday around the town of

Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people, many of them

retirees, that was largely obliterated by the Camp Fire.

Forecasters said there was a slight risk of rains unleashing

rivers of mud and debris down flame-scorched slopes stripped of

vegetation by the blaze, which has burned across 151,000 acres

(61,107 hectares) of the Sierra foothills north of San


But because of mass evacuations still in effect since the

fire erupted on November 8, few if any people were believed to be in

harm's way should any debris flows materialize, according to

National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologist Cindy Matthews.

She also said due to the volcanic soil and relatively

shallow slopes found in the fire zone, the ground is unlikely to

become saturated enough for hillsides to give way to landslides

that can occur in newly burned areas after heavy rains.

However, authorities in Southern California warned residents

in areas burned by a pair of recent large wildfires in the

coastal foothills and mountains northwest of Los Angeles to be

wary of mud-flow hazards from the same storm this week. One of

those blazes, the Woolsey Fire, killed three people.

While the showers will prove a boon to firefighters still

labouring to suppress the flames, the storm will heighten the

discomfort factor for many displaced residents who are

essentially camping rather than staying in emergency shelters.

"There are people still living in tents," Sacramento-based

NWS meteorologist Eric Kurth said in a telephone interview.

"That's certainly not going to be pleasant with the rain, and we

might get some wind gusting up to 40 to 45 miles per hour (64 to

72 km per hour)."

One of those evacuees, Kelly Boyer, lost his home in

Paradise and was sharing a tent with a friend at an encampment

outside a Walmart store in nearby Chico, where overnight low

temperatures have fallen to just above freezing.

Boyer said he was grateful for wooden pallets and plastic

tarps donated by local residents to evacuees to help keep their

tents off the ground and dry when the rains come, though he said

the showers would still make a mess.

"It's going to be mud city," he told Reuters.

The rains, however, will help dispel heavy smoke that has

lingered in the air.

"We're really expecting the air quality to improve. That's

the bright side for those people up there," he said.

Meanwhile, smoke from the recent California wildfires has

drifted across the country to the East Coast, where it was

widely noticed in the form of a brownish, orange haze in the sky

and was credited with unusually vibrant sunsets on Monday.

"So if you thought it was just a bit hazy this afternoon, we

have a California smoke plume moving through," retired NWS

meteorologist Gary Szatkowski, who continues to track weather

phenomenon from his home in New Jersey, wrote on Twitter.

Most of the transcontinental smoke plume, illustrated on a

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map he posted on

Twitter, was "a couple of miles up" in the atmosphere, high

enough to be carried east by the jet stream.

The Camp Fire incinerated some 13,000 homes in and around

Paradise, mostly during the first night of the blaze when

gale-force winds drove flames through drought-parched scrub and

trees into the town with little warning, forcing residents to

flee for their lives.

The remains of two more victims were found in a structure in

Paradise on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 81. The Butte

County Sheriff's Office has tentatively identified 56 of the

victims whose remains have so far been recovered.

Meanwhile, the missing-persons list compiled by the

sheriff's office was revised to 870 names late on Tuesday, from

a high of more than 1,200 over the weekend.

The number has fluctuated dramatically over the past week as

more individuals were reported missing or as some initially

listed as unaccounted for either turned up alive or were

confirmed dead.

Buffer lines have been carved around 75 percent of the

fire's perimeter and full containment is expected by the end of

the month, according to the California Department of Forestry

and Fire Protection.

The number of residents needing temporary shelter was

unclear but as many as 52 000 people were under evacuation

orders at the height of the firestorm last week.

The cause of the Camp and Woolsey fires are under

investigation but electric utilities reported localized

equipment problems around the time both blazes broke out. 


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