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Storms Headed for California Could Help, Hurt Wildfire Fights

Rain is in the forecast for much of fire-blackened California, and it figures to be a mixed blessing.

(CN) – Rain is in the forecast for much of fire-blackened California, and it figures to be a mixed blessing.

While the wet weather could help extinguish what remains of the Camp Fire – the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history – and the Woosley Fire in Southern California, it could also create dangerous conditions for firefighters negotiating steep terrain.

"They're having to fight this fire right now in the mountainous areas – the ravines, the canyons, very steep, rugged terrain," said Scott McLean, Cal Fire spokesman.

With little vegetation left to hold down hillsides, the predicted 4 to 6 inches of rain could unleash mudslides and other flooding that could hamper firefighters and residents attempting to pick up the pieces of their destroyed homes.

As of Monday morning, the Camp Fire has killed 77 people and a thousand are listed as missing, though many may actually be safe but have neither the time nor the capacity to contact concerned relatives.

However, law enforcement officials expect the death toll to rise as search and rescue workers continue to comb through the rubble in the town of Paradise for human remains.

Along with the steep human cost, about 15,000 structures have been destroyed in the blaze, including  about 80 percent of Paradise, population 27,000.

The Camp Fire has grown to 151,000 acres, but not at the rapid pace of the first few days and containment is up to 66 percent.

“Fire activity ranged from minimal to moderate overnight throughout various areas of the fire perimeter as firefighters continued to strengthen and improve control lines,” Cal Fire said in its Monday morning update.

But the path of destruction has left thousands of residents homeless, and many grapple with deteriorating conditions in makeshift shelters in and around Butte County. A norovirus outbreak in a Walmart parking lot in nearby Chico last week, along with overnight temperatures at or near freezing, prompted officials to suggest the people living there should look at other options.

In Southern California, the number of buildings and homes destroyed in this month’s Woolsey Fire has surpassed the number of homes destroyed in last year’s Thomas Fire, which was the largest fire by acreage in California history until it was dwarfed this past summer by the Mendocino Complex Fire.

Two years of devastating wildfires across the state has led to competing explanations as to why. Some experts blame climate change and the pattern of extended drought in the state. President Donald Trump, who visited the Golden State over the weekend, and his allies say poor forest management and diminished logging are to blame.

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