San Francisco: The Camp Fire — the deadliest blaze in the history of California that has claimed at least 85 lives and destroyed 14,000 residences — has been fully contained, authorities announced on Sunday.
Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency, made the announcement after spending 17 days beating back a blaze that has roared through 153,000 acres of Butte County, which is north of Sacramento, The Washington Post reported.
The wildfire has charred an area the size of Chicago.
Three straight days of rain helped more than 1,000 firefighters get a foothold.
But the rejoicing was muted. Authorities expect the death toll to continue to rise — 249 people are unaccounted for. Crews are still sifting through the ash of what used to be buildings, searching for human remains.
Thousands of displaced people in shelters and hotels or camping outdoors in below-freezing temperatures face an uncertain future.
The fire began November 8 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. High temperatures, gusty winds and parched vegetation contributed to its rapid spread.
As crews made incremental gains and Walmart parking lots became impromptu tent cities, the fire became the centre of a debate about global warming.
President Trump argued the fire spread so rapidly because of poor forest management by the state of California. He threatened – again – to remove federal funding from the state.
But state officials shot back, saying Butte County had endured its hottest years on record in the past decade. Those high temperatures had made the vegetation especially parched, officials argued, and turned Butte County into a tinderbox.
A spokesman for Governor Jerry Brown said more federal forest land has burned than state land, adding that the state has expanded its forestry budget while the Trump administration has cut its budget for forest services.
Even though the fire is contained, the nightmare is far from over for displaced residents, who face dangers as some prepare to see their homes for the first time in weeks.
Crews are working to repair power lines and clear debris from roads. Partially burned or hollowed-out trees are an ever-present threat, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Debris and ash could be toxic, full of heavy metals or carcinogens. Just sleeping at a home surrounded by ash and debris could be hazardous.
“You look up, and you see these things hanging in the trees, and now they’re blowing around real hard and fall down,” Craig Covey of the Orange County Fire Authority told a CNN affiliate.