Heavy rains expected to hinder search for victims of California wildfire

CHICO, Calif., Nov 21 (Reuters) - Heavy rains are forecast to begin on Wednesday in northern California, where they are likely to hinder search teams sifting through ash and rubble for the remains of victims of the deadliest wildfire in the state's history.

As much as six inches (15 cm) of rain was expected to fall over the next several days around the town of Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people, many of them retirees, that was largely obliterated by the Camp Fire. The fire claimed at least 81 lives and left hundreds missing.

The storm will help firefighters still battling the blaze, but will create more misery to the thousands of residents left homeless by the disaster, which destroyed thousands of homes in and around Paradise. Some of the homeless are camping rather than staying in emergency shelters.

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Animals impacted by deadly wildfires in California
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Animals impacted by deadly wildfires in California
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas are tied to a lifeguard stand on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Cathy Fallon pets her dog Shiloh at their home Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Shiloh was burned when a wildfire scorched the property, burning down Fallon's home. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Horses are tied to lifeguard booths on the beach in Malibu, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Wildfires are burning in both Southern and Northern California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Equine veterinarian Jesse Jellison carries an injured goose to a waiting transport during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
Dogs roam burned out neighborhoods as the Camp fire tears through Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 08, 2018. - More than one hundred homes, a hospital, a Safeway store and scores of other structures have burned in the area and the fire shows no signs of slowing. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are tied to a pole on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas evacuated from the Woolsey Fire are tied to a lifeguard tower at Zuma Beach in Malibu on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
PARADISE, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Rocklin police officers Randy Law grazes a horse he rescued in Paradise, Calif., Friday, November 9, 2018. (Karl Mondon/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Jimmy Clements, who stayed at his home as the Camp Fire raged through Paradise, Calif., pets his dog Blue, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Clements, whose home stands among destroyed residences, said he built an FM radio out of a potato and wire to keep up with news about the fire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Cathy Fallon sits near her dog Shiloh, a 2-year-old golden retriever, whose face was burned in the fire in Paradise, Calif. Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Shiloh needs veterinarian treatment. But she can't leave her property because authorities won't allow her to return to Paradise, since the entire town is still under an evacuation order. Fallon and Shiloh are spending nights in this horse trailer because the family home burned. (AP Photo/Paul Elias)
Marty Cable is one of dozens of horse owners who evacuated her home in Encinal Canyon to bring their animals to an evacuation area at Zuma Beach in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Known as the Woolsey fire, it has consumed thousands of acres and destroyed multiple homes. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Goats are cared for at The Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large animals after being evacuated from the wildfire in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward tony Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Teresa Merritt, left helps her sister Mary Lou Miller with her dogs after being evacuated at The Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large and small animals in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Wildfire evacuee Eva Loeffler sits with her 20 year-old pony Mini at the Pierce College Equine Center where evacuees are bringing their large and small animals in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
PARADISE, CA - NOVEMBER 11: A dog named Rockey stands on the fence in front of the home of Jimmy Clements that survived the Camp Fire on November 11, 2018 in Paradise, California. Fueled by high winds and low humidity the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise charring over 105,000 acres, killed 23 people and has destroyed over 6,700 homes and businesses. The fire is currently at 25 percent containment. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Yolo County Sheriff's Office Animal Services Officer Tim Share leads a rescued horse towards a trailer during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A donkey is seen tied to a road sign during the Camp Fire near Big Bend, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A group of deers walk through properties destroyed by the the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Local residents bring their horses to Zuma Beach and away from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Llamas evacuated from the Woolsey Fire are tied to a lifeguard tower at Zuma beach in Malibu on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
People lead horses and ponies down Pacific Coast Highway to an evacuation area at Zuma Beach in the Point Dume area of Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Known as the Woolsey Fire, it has consumed tens of thousands of acres and destroyed multiple homes. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are yied to a pole on the beach in Malibu as the Woolsey Fire comes down the hill Friday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Nine year-old pit bull Tone, which suffers from burns on its paws during the Camp Fire, rests in the parking lot of Neighbourhood Church of Chico, in Chico, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Veterinarian Dawn Alves tends to a dog named Fatty who received burns on its eyes and chin during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Evacuee Brian Etter and dog Tone, who walked on foot to escape the Camp Fire, rest in the parking lot of Neighborhood Church of Chico, in Chico, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Horses are spooked as the Woolsey Fire moves through the property on Cornell Road near Paramount Ranch on November 9, 2018 inAgoura Hills, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
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"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)."

Forecasters said the rains might also cause rivers of mud and debris to slide down flame-scorched slopes stripped of vegetation. The fire has burned across 151,000 acres (61,107 hectares) of the Sierra foothills north of San Francisco.

But because of mass evacuations since the fire erupted on Nov. 8, few people were believed to be in harm's way from any debris flow, according to National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologist Cindy Matthews.

She also said the volcanic soil and relatively shallow slopes found in the fire zone mean the ground is unlikely to become saturated enough for hillsides to give way to landslides.

However, authorities in Southern California warned residents in areas burned by another pair of wildfires in the 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. MORE VICTIMS 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 widely over the past week as more individuals were reported missing and some initially unaccounted for either turned up alive or were confirmed dead.

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 Camp Fire incinerated some 12,600 homes in and around Paradise, mostly during the first night of the blaze. Gale-force winds drove flames through drought-parched scrub and trees into the town with little warning, forcing residents to flee for their lives.

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.

Smoke from the fires has drifted across the country to the East Coast, where it left a brownish-orange haze that was credited with unusually vibrant sunsets on Monday.

The cause of the Camp and Woolsey fires is under investigation, but electric utilities reported equipment problems around the time both blazes broke out. (Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee)

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