REDDING (CBS SF) — A potent winter storm front, packing as much as 3 inches of rain in the fire-devastated areas of Butte and Shasta countries, triggered flash flood watch Tuesday — a new threat for thousands how have been driven from their homes.
The warning was issued for areas devastated by the Camp Fire in Butte County, the Carr, Delta and Hirz wildfires in Shasta County and the Mendocino Complex in Lake County burn areas in Northern California.
The storm was expected to roll into the San Francisco Bay Area Tuesday evening, clearing out a plume of unhealthy air from the Camp Fire that has been drfaped over the area for 11 straight days. Schools and colleges have been closed and events — like last Saturday’s football showdown between Cal and Stanford – have been postponed or cancelled.
It will then moved east into the fire zone for Wednesday and early Thanksgiving. A second band of storms was forecasted for Friday.
Weary firefighters gained ground against the Camp Fire overnight, moving containment to 70 percent. The fire is the deadliest wildfire in California history — having claimed at least 79 lives. It has charred 236 square miles that are now extremely vulnerable to mudslides.
While the intense downpours will be a blessing in the fight to finally control the fire, it will also put crews at risk for flash flooding.
“This could quickly become a dangerous situation,” the weather service said. “Residents, emergency responders, persons traveling within the burn area should remain alert and take action should heavy rain develop.”
The story is much the same for the areas destroyed by the Mendocino Complex in Lake County. The twin fires that made of the Complex in September scorched 720 square miles (1,865 square kilometers) of brush and timber north of San Francisco, destroyed 157 homes and killed a firefighter.
Meanwhile, the Carr Fire charred nearly 360 square miles in and around Redding, making it the seventh largest in California history. It killed four civilians, including a woman and her two great-grandchildren, along with a Redding fire inspector and a bulldozer operator.
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The heavy rains could also create havoc for the dozens of crews searching the burned-out remains of cars, homes and businesses in Paradise, Magali and Concow for human remains. More than 700 people still remain unaccounted for in the Camp Fire.
Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek when rain is forecast.
“As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible,” Honea said.