Photo: Kathleen Ronayne / Associated Press
Firefighters have reached a milestone in their long battle against the deadly Camp Fire that has ravaged communities in Butte County, announcing early Sunday that they have fully contained the blaze that has killed at least 85 people.
The fire, which ignited Nov. 8, has burned 153,336 acres and is now 100 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Two rainstorms that soaked the area last week with much-needed precipitation helped slow the blaze. But even full containment doesn’t mean the fire is considered extinguished, said Brigitte Foster, a spokeswoman for the Camp Fire unified command unit.
“They’re going to be working on it for months,” Foster said. “Within the perimeter, there are stumps and burning roots that are underground, and we still need to try to pull those up and remove the heat.”
A total of 18,733 structures have been destroyed by the fire, including 13,672 single-family residences.
On Saturday, firefighters faced steep and wet terrain that posed hazards.
“That is probably the primary issue — getting folks down in there with the rain,” said Jennifer Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Camp Fire unified command unit. “Rain can loosen up rocks that can come rolling down. It can also loosen some of the fire-affected trees in there.”
The rain that moved into Northern California on Wednesday doused the flames and helped firefighters gain more control of the blaze. Officials were concerned that heavy rain could cause mudslides and debris flows in the burn scar areas of Paradise and Magalia.
There were no reports of any slides. And that’s because the rain was steady but not too intense, said Bill Rasch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“We just got really lucky,” Rasch said. “The rain came down at a slow enough pace and hit the sweet spot — steady rain, not a lot of impact.”
The town of Paradise has received 3.22 inches of rain, Concow had close to 5 inches and Magalia has recorded 5.41 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Some light showers were reported early Saturday, but by midmorning the rain had ended, paving the way for a dry weekend. But that dry period won’t last long.
Another storm expected Tuesday should bring at least an inch of rain to the burn scar areas, Rasch said.
A second storm on Thursday could bring a couple more inches, but it’s still too soon to tell.
Though the storms don’t appear to be as strong as last week’s, there is still a chance for mudslides and debris flows, Rasch warned.
“Even if it’s less precipitation, if it comes too much at one time, that’s when you can have a problem,” he said. “We have to worry about the rate that the rainfall happens. We still need to be careful.”
For now, it looks like Tuesday’s storm will hit the “sweet spot” again, Rasch added.
On Saturday, search-and-rescue teams were continuing to look for possible victims. At least 85 people have been killed and 249 people remain missing, according to figures reported late Friday by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
The National Weather Service has sent an incident meteorologist to accompany the teams and keep an eye on the weather forecast, Rasch said.
In addition to dealing with the fire line and searching for possible victims, crews were also focusing their efforts Saturday on suppression repairs, Erickson said.
“It’s an activity we do that directly addresses the things that we’ve done in an effort to suppress the fire,” she said. “We put these fire lines all around the fire. Water tends to want to run down those fire lines and can cause excessive sedimentation and erosion.”
The focus for crews was to drain the excess water that has accumulated near the blaze. Additionally, utility workers were continuing to repair power lines in the towns devastated by the fire.
The effort to remove weakened trees also continues, Erickson said.
“It’s just tough conditions with how wet it is,” she said, adding that the ground is still wet from last week’s storms.