The search for remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfires has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts, while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines.
Hundreds of rescue workers sifted through charred rubble on Sunday, searching for signs of the 993 people listed as missing, after flames roared through the town of Paradise and surrounding communities.
The death toll from the wildfires in northern California has risen to 77, while thousands have been left homeless from the deadliest blaze to hit the US state.
“One human remain was located today,” raising the toll by one in the so-called Camp Fire which broke out 10 days ago in northern California, a statement from the Butte County Sheriff said on Sunday.
The number of people believed missing was revised down from 1,276 to 993, the statement added.
Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the fires.
“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.
The blaze was 65 percent contained on Sunday.
|US President Donald Trump said ‘it’s like total devastation’ on a visit to Paradise [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]|
Rain is forecast for the area this week, potentially helping douse the flames, but raising the risk of floods and mudslides that will swell the misery of 46,000 people under evacuation orders.
Many of those who fled their homes have taken up temporary residence with friends and relatives, while others have pitched tents or were camping out of their vehicles.
US President Donald Trump surveyed the remains of Paradise during a visit on Saturday. He also assessed the damage from another fire further south in Malibu, where three people died.
‘Rise from the ashes’
On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims at First Christian Church in Chico, where a banner on the altar read, “We will rise from the ashes.”
People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first firefighters, rescuers and search teams: “We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now.”
Paul Stavish, who retired three months ago from a Silicon Valley computer job and moved to Paradise, placed a battery-powered votive candle on the altar as a woman played piano and sang “Amazing Grace”.
Stavish, his wife and three dogs managed to escape the fire, but their home is gone. He said he was thinking of the dead and also mourning the tight-knit community.
“This is not just a few houses getting burned,” he said. “The whole town is gone.”
Rain is forecast for midweek in the Paradise area.
The National Weather Service said the area could get 32 kilometres per hour sustained winds and 64km/h gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.
Focus turns to health
Reporting from a shelter in Chico, Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey said that community volunteers were assisting with short-term relief efforts for evacuees.
“An army of volunteers has come together to help with the influx of tens of thousands of evacuees,” said Saloomey. “In addition to shelter, they are providing food and clothing, not to mention medical assistance from local doctors and nurses.”
Some of the displaced who have moved to shelters have suffered from an outbreak of norovirus and other intestinal problems, she added, noting that about 30 people had to be moved into isolation in one shelter to prevent the disease from spreading.
“I was sick and vomiting for three or four days. Vomiting, diarrhoea, the whole nine yards,” said Dorothy Melton, who was staying at the shelter.
Refugees from the fire were also likely to suffer from mental health issues, according to Dr David Sprenger, a psychiatrist at the shelter.
He told Al Jazeera that he suspected there would be “a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”.
“It may not be full-blown PTSD, but it may be just folks with nightmares, maybe a lot of sadness, irritability, people with trouble sleeping. That’s really common after this type of disaster,” he said.
North California fire: Death toll at 77, about 1,000 missing