PARADISE (California) • Rain is on the way for fire-scorched and smoke-choked northern California, forecasters said yesterday, as the search for the dead and missing continued after the state's most destructive wildfires.
The wildfires have already claimed at least 76 lives and the number of people missing jumped on Saturday to 1,276, despite the authorities locating hundreds of people who scattered when the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.
Up to 10cm of rain is expected to fall from late tomorrow through Friday in the Sierra foothills, the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Centre said, including in Paradise, which was all but obliterated by the Camp Fire.
"Nobody could have thought this would ever happen," United States President Donald Trump told reporters as he visited Paradise on Saturday, speaking amid the charred wreckage of the town's Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park.
Forensic recovery teams were expected to continue to sift through the charred wreckage yesterday, relying on DNA to confirm identities.
Rain will also fall on San Francisco, helping to clear the air filled with unhealthy levels of smoke from the Camp Fire about 280km to the north.
Some sporting events were cancelled in the San Francisco Bay area on Saturday as the air was deemed "unhealthy" by the Environmental Protection Agency, the San Francisco Chronicle and other media reported. Older people and children were advised to stay indoors.
The rain will help clear the pollution, said Mr Patrick Burke, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.
However, the rain will be a "one-two punch", he said.
"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.
"The rain will be steady through Friday with about 7.5cm and spots that could get 10cm or more of rain," he said. "And again, anywhere the vegetation is burned away, there's not a lot to hold the soil and debris in place."
Up to 5cm of rain is also expected to fall on southern California this week, including north of Sacramento where the so-called Woolsey Fire claimed at least three lives, Mr Burke said.
On Saturday, two forensic anthropologists from 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.
President Trump was accompanied on his tour on Saturday by California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.
Mr Brown said the federal government was doing what it needed to do, including supporting first responders and helping with clean-up and the search for victims.
Mr Trump has blamed the recent spate of wildfires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with Mr Brown and Mr Newsom on the ride into Paradise.
More than a week since the outbreak, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 55 per cent of the blaze's perimeter.
Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California's history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.