EYE OF THE STORM? California Extinguishes Wildfires, For Now…
The Camp Fire — the deadliest, most destructive blaze in California history that has killed 85 people, destroyed 14,000 residences and charred an area the size of Chicago — has been fully contained, authorities announced Sunday.
Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency, made the announcement after spending 17 days beating back a blaze that has roared through 153,000 acres of Butte County, which is north of Sacramento. Three straight days of rain helped more than 1,000 firefighters get a foothold.
But the rejoicing was muted. Authorities expect the death toll to continue to rise: 249 people are unaccounted for. Crews are still sifting through the ash of what used to be buildings, searching for human remains.
Thousands of displaced people in shelters and hotels or camping outdoors in below-freezing temperatures face an uncertain future.
The fire began Nov. 8 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. High temperatures, gusty winds and parched vegetation contributed to its rapid spread.
The number of people still missing from the Camp Fire north of San Francisco dropped to 249 on Sunday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said. The number was revised down from 475 as people who were believed missing were found in shelters, staying in hotels or with friends, officials said, adding that many did not know they were on the list.
As crews made incremental gains and Walmart parking lots became impromptu tent cities, the fire became the center of a debate about global warming.
President Trump argued the fire spread so rapidly because of poor forest management by the state of California. He threatened — again — to remove federal funding from the state.
But state officials shot back, saying Butte County had endured its hottest years on record in the past decade. Those high temperatures had made the vegetation especially parched, officials argued, and turned Butte County into a tinderbox.
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said more federal forest land has burned than state land, adding that the state has expanded its forestry budget while the Trump administration has cut its budget for forest services.
Searchers will have a few more days of dry weather, but starting late Tuesday, another 2-5 inches (5 to 13 cm) of rain is expected to drop on the Sierra Nevada foothills through next Sunday, hampering the searchers work and renewing fears of flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.
“The fear is that the rain will drop in intense bursts,” Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the federal Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said early Sunday.
“All the vegetation has burned away, and that’s a dangerous recipe for mudslides,” Hurley said.
Last week, 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) of rain fell there and turned ash from the thousands of destroyed homes into slurry, complicating the work of finding bodies reduced to bone fragments.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has warned that remains of some victims may never be found.
The town of Paradise was a popular destination for retirees, with people aged 65 or older accounting for a quarter of its 27,000 residents. Most of the victims of the fire identified so far were of retirement age.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire.
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