Number of missing in deadly California wildfire revised down, more rain on the way

Nov 25 (Reuters) - The number of people still missing after a northern California wildfire obliterated the mountain town of Paradise, 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.

The search for the dead will continue at first light Sunday, in the ash and rubble of the so-called Camp Fire that started on Nov. 8 and killed at least 85 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes, in and around Paradise, California, about 175 miles (280 km) northeast of San Francisco.

The death toll was increased late Saturday night by one, according to the Butte County Sheriff's Office.

Searchers will have a few more days of dry weather, but starting late Tuesday, another 2-5 inches 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.

RELATED: Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire

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Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire
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Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire
The Camp Fire charred 200 square miles in Northern California from Thursday, November 8, through Tuesday, November 13, 2018. (Image via Business Insider/Cal Fire)

Source: Insider

At 9:23 a.m. Thursday, the Butte County Sheriff's Office sent out frantic tweets — first warning — then ordering residents to get out of the way of the flames. "What pisses me off is I don’t think they told everybody soon enough," resident Kim Benn said.

Source: TwitterLA Times

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

At least six people died in their cars as they tried to escape.

Source: Business Insider

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With a death toll of at least 48, the Camp Fire is now the deadliest wildfire in California history.

Source: Business Insider

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"The fire was so close I could feel it in my car through rolled up windows," Rita Miller, who fled Paradise with her disabled mother, told the Associated Press.

Source: Associated Press

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Anita Waters, who escaped her mobile home in Paradise, told the Times that she saw cars in flames with people still inside them as she left.

Source: New York Times

(Photo via REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

Authorities warned that the Camp Fire's body count could continue to climb, though they hope it doesn't.

Source: Business Insider

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cathy Fallon told the AP that the fire hit her house like a "big tsunami." She managed to save her 14 horses and barn using a hose, but her house is gone.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"I just kept watering the barn and watering any areas in the barn that caught on fire," she said. "It's a dangerous situation. I remember my son saying, 'Hey! There's no firefighters. We're on our own here.' I'm like, 'Yeah.' We were definitely on our own." 

Source: Associated Press

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The blaze was so hot it melted metal. Allyn Pierce, a registered nurse, told The New York Times that he was in his truck sitting in traffic as a wall of fire approached. The registered nurse recorded a goodbye message to his family members, but a bulldozer cleared the way for him to escape just in time.

Source: The New York Times

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Instead of getting far away from Paradise, however, Pierce drove to help patients at the local hospital, where he manages the intensive care unit. "It’s completely traumatic," Pierce said about being trapped in his truck. "When I close my eyes at night, I see fire."

Source: Business Insider

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

All the patients from the hospital where Pierce works made it out safely, but the building burned.

Source: CBS News

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Erin McLaughlin, who lives a few miles north of Paradise, told the Times that she left her home Thursday morning with her 81-year-old neighbor, Elisabeth Mesones. The two got stuck in traffic outside Paradise and escaped their cars on foot after hearing propane-tank explosions nearby.

Source: The New York Times

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

McLaughlin, Mesones, and roughly 75 other motorists gathered in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. "Everything was on fire all around you," McLaughlin said. "It was the most scary thing I’ve ever seen." The group escaped after six hours, but the restaurant later burned down.

Source: The New York Times

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

More than 5,600 fire personnel are fighting the Camp blaze. In addition, 1,418 California inmates are dousing fires around the state. They're not paid for that work.

Source: KQED

(Photo via REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

Fire Captain Steve Millosovich rescued this cage of cats from the Camp Fire in Big Bend. He told the AP that the cage fell off the bed of a pickup truck driving to safety.

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Hundreds of residents are still missing. On Tuesday evening, the Butte County sheriff's office released a partial list of 100 names of missing people, but there are certainly more.

Source: Chico Enterprise-Record

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Teresa Moniz was in the town of Magalia last Thursday when her husband, Albert Moniz, called to say flames were approaching their home in Paradise. Albert Moniz, who is disabled and does not own a cell phone, later called from a friend's house, but his wife has not heard from him since.

Source: Los Angeles Times

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Butte County fire chief said they haven't had any rain in the area since May. Some precipitation is in the forecast for next week, though.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Red-flag warnings have been in effect across the state recently, which means the weather is ripe for fires due to high winds and low humidity. This has made fighting the flames extra challenging.

Source: Twitter

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Firefighters don't expect the blaze to be completely extinguished until the end of November.

Source: Cal Fire

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rescue crews are searching for bodies. But sometimes they only recover a few small remains of a fire victim to put in a body bag.

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Other times, only bone fragments are left among the charred remains of a home.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A rapid DNA-analysis system and cadaver dogs are being dispatched to help identify victims. But DNA testing can be almost impossible if all that's left is incinerated.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Wildfires are a natural part of California's ecosystems, but they have recently gotten stronger and caused more destruction as the state sees less rain and higher temperatures. Dry, hot conditions, which are partially caused by climate change, are becoming the new normal.

Source: Business Insider

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

To make the situation worse, native plants such as Chaparral, which is a great fire buffer, have been cut down, and more non-native grasses and weeds have moved in, which are great fuel for fires. "Instead of trying to make the fires adapt to us, we have to create communities and live in situations where we allow the fires to burn around us, not through us," Rich Halsey from the California Chaparral Institute said.

Sources: California Chaparral InstituteUSGS VideoThe New YorkerLive Science

(Photo via REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein)

The wildfires have also led to dangerous breathing conditions that extend for hundreds of miles.

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

People in and around the San Francisco Bay Area are breathing air that the US government calls "unhealthy."

Source: Business Insider

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Fire experts say the term "wildfire season" has lost its meaning, since fires can essentially break out during any season now in California.

Source: Business Insider

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

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"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.

With help from the recent rain, firefighters have contained 98 percent of the blaze, which torched 154,000 acres (62,000 hectares) - an area five times the size of San Francisco, officials said.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

Thousands of people forced to flee Paradise spent Thanksgiving in warehouses in the nearby city of Chico, or with friends or relatives in nearby towns. (Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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