PARADISE (CBS SF/AP) — The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for Northern California’s wildfire-scarred areas including the Butte County mountainsides devastated by the Camp Fire in the past two weeks.
The alert is in effect from Wednesday through Friday when the first rain and snowstorm of the season is expected to hit the northern part of the state.
Although the rain is much needed in the area, another concern Monday night is the search for remains.
Crews are racing to find victims before the storm can have an impact on recovery efforts.
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Forecaster Eric Kurth said Monday that storms expected to soak the scorched Paradise area Wednesday and into Thanksgiving weekend could dump at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain.
He says weather projections show the area will see moderate, steady rain. It’s still unclear whether there will be heavy rain that could unleash large debris flows and mudslides.
Rescue workers wore white coveralls, hard hats and masks as they poked through debris, searching for bone fragments before rain could wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into thick paste.
A team of 10 volunteers accompanied by a cadaver dog went from house to house in the charred landscape. Some went to homes where they had received tips that someone might have died.
They used sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses for possible signs of victims.
When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange “0” near the house and moved on.
Robert Panak, a volunteer on a team from Napa County, said he was trying to picture each house before it burned and imagine where people might have taken shelter.
“I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure,” Panak said.
The search area is huge and the fire burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the effort.
“Here we’re looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic,” he said Friday.
Sheriff Kory Honea said it was possible that the exact death toll from the blaze would never be known. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek when the rain is forecast.
The rain will bring some much needed relief from the unhealthy air the region has suffered through over the past twelve days. The poor air quality has ranged from “unhealthy” to “hazardous” last Friday when AQI readings well over 300 were measured across the Bay Area.
On Monday night, many people could still be seen wearing the type of particulate respirators recommended to protect against the smoky air.
By Tuesday evening, Bay Area air quality should be noticeably improved, then back to normal by Wednesday.
Some concerns have been raised about the rain combining with chemicals in the smoke from the fire or introducing the particulate matter into the water supply.
“The rain may be slightly more acidic than normal,” explained UC Davis Professor Chris Cappa, who works in the universitys Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
But Cappa said that slight acidity won’t have much of a lasting impact.
“It’s only with prolonged exposure and repeated exposure — if we got acid rain all the time — that we might end up with problems,” said Cappa.
As for Bay Area drinking water, KPIX talked to officials who said the rain mixing with particulates in the smoky air will not have an impact, because much of Bay Area’s water supply comes from the Sierra and it is filtered.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.