PARADISE (CBS/AP) — The much-needed rain is creating more misery for the people forced from their homes by the Camp Fire. While the rain is helping douse the flames, it’s causing new concerns about too much water.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for wildfire-scarred areas from Wednesday through Friday, with scorched hillsides susceptible to failure and causing ash and debris flows into ravines.
“The rain is really a double-edged sword for this fire,” said Rick Carhart, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said searchers have “been able to sift through this really fine ash and when rain gets onto that really fine ash, it turns it into sort of a muddy muck and makes it a lot more difficult.”
There hasn’t been enough time for recovery crews in the fire zone to finish their work. Wednesday they were sharing space with workers who were laying down water erosion mitigation. As rain poured down on the Camp Fire burn scar, workers ramped up effort to keep it from wreaking havoc downstream.
“It’s an uphill battle but we are doing the best we can with the time and resources that we have,” said Radley Ott, Butte County Assistant Director of Public Works.
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While the search for human remains continues, the clean-up effort of burn sites is stalled.
Phase one hasn’t even begun yet, that’s the removal of household hazardous waste – things like paint cans or propane tanks – the burned remnants are just sitting out in the rain and that water could then possibly flow into waterways.
Butte County issued a hazard advisory on Wednesday afternoon, saying homes and property destroyed by fire contain high and concerning levels of heavy metals, lead, mercury, dioxin, arsenic and possibly even radioactive materials.
The county is working as hard as it can to keep ash and runoff from those homes out of the waterways, but the Feather River Watershed, where half of the Camp Fire footprint sits, ultimately ends up in Lake Oroville – a major water resource for California.
“Putting any type of debris into our water system causes some concern,” said Chris Orrock with the state Department of Water Resources. “We’re going to be doing increased measurements of the water that comes out, making sure that the water quality stays at an acceptable level.”
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