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Rain tamps down California fire but turns grim search soggy | TribLIVE.com
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Rain tamps down California fire but turns grim search soggy

The Associated Press
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Eric Darling and his dog Wyatt are part of a search team from Orange County in Southern California who are among several teams conducting a second search of a mobile home park after the deadly Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. The team is doing a second search because there are outstanding reports of missing people whose last known address was at the mobile home park. They look for clues that may indicate someone couldn't get out, such as a car in the driveway or a wheelchair ramp. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
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CORRECTS NAME TO CHRIS STEVENS INSTEAD OF CRAIG STEVENS - National Urban Search & Rescue Response System Orange County CATF-5 team members Imelda Cordova, third from right, talks to Andrew Ricker and Chris Stevens, far right, as their team takes cover from the rain in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. High winds and heavy rains are temporarily halting the work of some search teams out looking for remains of people caught up in the deadly wildfire. The Camp Fire, which destroyed the historical mining town of Paradise, is the most deadly in state history, with 84 fatalities as of Friday, according to statistics from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It's also the deadliest in the U.S. in a century. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
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Craig Covey, task force leader for the Orange County search team, left, with David Harper, middle talk to resident Stewart Nugent outside his Paradise, Calif., home on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. Covey and several team members took two giant brown bags full of lunch to 64-year-old Stewart Nugent, who stayed in his home and fought off flames. Rough is among the thousands of people whose homes burned down when the deadly wildfire ripped through Paradise and surrounding communities. At least 84 people died, and more than 13,000 homes were destroyed. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
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After a brief delay to let a downpour pass, volunteers resume their search for human remains at a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. A team from Orange County in Southern California is among several teams conducting a second search of a mobile home park after the deadly Camp wildfire torched part of Butte County in Northern California. Task force leader Craig Covey, in blue jacket at center, says his team is doing a second search because there are outstanding reports of missing people whose last known address was at the mobile home park. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
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Search team members move sheet metal to allow cadaver dogs to search beneath them for signs of human remains at a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. They said the mobile home park had already been hand searched, so they were re-examining it with search dogs. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
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Steven McKnight, right, and Daniel Hansen saw through large pieces of sheet metal so they can be moved to allow cadaver dogs to search beneath them for signs of human remains at a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. They said the mobile home park had already been hand searched, so they were re-examining it with search dogs. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)

PARADISE, Calif. — The catastrophic wildfire in Northern California is nearly out after several days of rain, but searchers are still completing the meticulous task of combing through now-muddy ash and debris for signs of human remains.

Crews resumed the grim work Saturday as rain cleared out of the devastated town of Paradise. Some were looking through destroyed neighborhoods for a second time as hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. They were searching for telltale fragments or bone or anything that looks like a pile of cremated ashes.

The nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century has killed at least 84 people, and 475 are on a list of those reported missing. The flames ignited Nov. 8 in the parched Sierra Nevada foothills and quickly spread across 240 square miles (620 square kilometers), destroying most of Paradise in a day.

The fire burned down nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, and displaced thousands of people, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The two-week firefight got a boost Wednesday from the first significant winter-like storm to hit California. It dropped an estimated 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain over the burn area over a three-day period without causing significant mudslides, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley of the National Weather Service.

The rain helped extinguish hotspots in smoldering areas, and containment increased to 95 percent. Despite the inclement weather, more than 800 volunteers kept searching for remains.

Crews worked on-and-off amid a downpour Friday. While the rain made everybody colder and wetter, they kept the mission in mind, said Chris Stevens, a search volunteer who wore five layers of clothing to keep warm.

“It doesn’t change the spirits of the guys working,” he said. “Everyone here is super committed to helping the folks here.”

In Southern California, more residents have returned to areas evacuated in a destructive fire as crews repaired power, telephone and gas utilities.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said they were in the last phase of repopulating Malibu and unincorporated areas of the county. At the height of the fire, 250,000 fled their homes.

Flames erupted Nov. 8 just west of Los Angeles and burned through suburban communities and wilderness parklands to the ocean. Three people died, and 1,643 buildings, most of them homes, were destroyed, officials said.

In Northern California, searchers tried to keep their minds on the task rather than the tragic situation.

“The guys will never say it’s hard,” crew member David Kang said. “But it is.”

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