November 18, 2018 / 4:22 PM / a month ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Grim search for 1,276 missing after deadliest California wildfire

(Corrects to remove reference to Sacramento in paragraph 13)

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif., Nov 18 (Reuters) - Authorities sifted through the charred wreckage of California’s deadliest ever wildfire on Sunday, searching for any signs of the 1,276 people now listed as missing after the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.

The remains of 76 people have been recovered so far, 63 of whom have been tentatively identified pending DNA confirmation. Early on Sunday the blaze, which ignited on Nov. 8, was 60 percent contained, officials said, up from 55 percent Saturday.

Rain is forecast for the area this week, potentially helping douse the blazes but raising the risk of floods and mudslides, adding to the misery of 46,000 people under evacuation orders.

On Saturday, two forensic anthropologists for the University of Nevada, Reno, were helping firefighters sort through the wreckage at a mobile home park for senior citizens in Paradise.

Firefighters peeled back the metal sheet of a collapsed roof as the anthropologists picked up visibly charred bone fragments, sorting them into paper bags.

Roger Fielding, chief deputy coroner with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said that each site was treated as a crime scene, with every step of recovery documented with photographs.

“Our job is to pick up any items that might reflect who this person might be,” he said.

Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.

Up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain is expected to fall from late Tuesday through Friday in the Sierra foothills, the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said.

Rain will also drop on San Francisco, helping to clear the air filled with unhealthy levels of smoke from the Camp Fire about 175 miles (280 km) to the north.

Patrick Burke, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said the rain will be a “one-two-punch.”

“It’ll bring much needed relief to the firefighters and to the air quality, but there’s a potential for dangerous mudslides wherever vegetation is burned away on slopes and hills,” he said.

Up to 2 inches of rain is also expected to fall on southern California this week, where the Woolsey Fire claimed at least three lives, Burke said.

California fire officials said on Sunday morning that the Woolsey Fire was 88 percent contained and that full containment will occur on Thanksgiving Thursday.

On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump visited Paradise and the scene of the Woolsey Fire.

Trump has blamed the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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