Camp Fire 95 percent contained, 84 dead

[Updated Friday 8:20 p.m.] The death toll from the Camp Fire remained at 84, officials said Friday evening. The fire is 95 percent contained with 153,336 acres burned, according to Cal Fire. 475 people remain unaccounted for.

On Wednesday, emergency agencies kept a close eye on the rains and the possibility of debris flows in the burn zone.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, in a Wednesday briefing at the Cal Fire command post in Chico, said two more people were found Wednesday — one each in Paradise and Magalia. “I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re continuing to account for and locate people,” the sheriff said.

Cal Fire and other agencies warned that the rains, which are expected to last through Friday or possibly Saturday, could create potentially dangerous flows of ash, mud, trees, rocks and other post-fire debris. Six different agencies issued flash flood alerts for the mountainous area surrounding the Camp Fire burn zone. The U.S. Geological Survey said areas north of Paradise, including Concow and Pugla, were most at risk.

“The rain is of concern to us,” Honea said. However, he said he doesn’t think any human remains will be washed away by the rains.

The National Weather Service said the Chico-Paradise region got about 1 inch of rain as of Wednesday night. The greatest risk of debris flow was likely to occur Thursday night through Friday, the service said.

Although it rained in parts of Northern California in early October, this week’s precipitation represents the first significant rainfall of the season.

Cal Fire’s Watershed Emergency Response Team dispatched a dozen staffers to the hillsides around Pulga and Concow in recent days to identify the high-risk areas, digging into the soil and pouring water on the ground to see how porous the earth is. Another team was conducting similar work in the Southern California coastal mountain areas affected by the Woolsey fire.

Officials were mindful of the January disaster in Montecito, when 21 people died in mudslides caused by a major rainstorm on portions of Santa Barbara that had been hit by the Thomas Fire weeks earlier. The mudslide left a stretch of Highway 101 closed for a week.

Honea said more than 800 search and rescue personnel were scheduled to be on the job Thanksgiving day. But if the rain imperils the safety of searchers, “we will pull personnel out of those areas and suspend the search,” the sheriff said.

Honea also released the names of six more victims: Teresa Ammans, 82, of Paradise; Richard Brown, 74, of Concow; Marie Wehe, 78, of Concow; Kimber Wehr, 53, of Paradise; Joseph Rabetoy, 39, of Paradise; and Joan Tracy, 80, of Paradise.

Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said he hopes residents can start visiting their properties in the foreseeable future. “We are actively working on a plan for re-entry,” he said. “We hope to begin that re-entry in the coming days.” Residents will probably be allowed to be onsite for 6 to 8 hours.

A total of 13,503 homes have been destroyed, Cal Fire said Wednesday.

Eric Lameroux, of the state Office of Emergency Services, announced that the state Department of Toxic Substance Control and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would begin removing propane tanks and “obvious chemicals” from individuals’ properties next week. But he said it would take several months to do a full cleanup of the burn zone, including the removal of toxic ash.

He added that getting people registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial assistance remains a top priority, and getting people “out of shelters and into situations that are safer.”

Mary Sakuma, the head of the county education department, said plans are under way to get the several thousand displaced school children of Paradise back in class by Dec. 3. “We are close to knowing how and where all students will be attending school,” she said. “Trust that we are on it.” A shuttered elementary school, located between Oroville and Paradise, is being reopened.

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