Crews searching fire-ravaged communities in Northern California for human remains were in a race against the weather Wednesday with rain in the forecast. The precipitation could help knock out the flames, but it could also hinder the search by washing away fragmentary remains and turning ash into a thick paste.
"The material that we're dealing with it's heavily, you know, ash and soot, and when the water touches that, it kinda turns to sediment, almost like soil again," federal search-and-rescue team member Brian Ferreira said. "It is kinda urgent, yeah, that we get through this as quick as we can."
Almost 700 people were reported missing in the Camp Fire. Meanwhile, two more people were found dead Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 81. Statewide the count stands at 84 killed.
Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster at CBS New York, said rain could hit the area Wednesday and again Friday. Some fire-scarred areas could get half an inch of rain an hour, which could trigger mudslides.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the threat of mudslides would stress an already fragile community. "It is the potential of dealing with one disaster and having, you know, something else pile on top of us," Honea said.
Los Angeles County officials have setup a website for residents to prepare for the possibility of rain, including information about free sand bangs, road closures and emergency alerts.
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Utility under pressure to explain actions before blaze
Some victims of the Camp Fire are asking why the state's largest utility didn't shut off power in areas that were at high risk. Pacific Gas & Electric said two of its power lines failed in areas where the fire broke out a short time before the first flames were reported.
The company highlighted one failure the day the fire began but then waited more than a week to report the second until more information was available. PG&E said the fire forecast did not meet the criteria for a "public safety power shutoff."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Fires taking more than physical toll on firefighters
Wildfires are taking more than just a physical toll on the firefighters battling flames across California, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan reports. Ben Holliday and Joshua Wilkins have been moving from fire to fire since June.
Both men are from Butte County, where the Camp Fire has devastated their community. "This is our home," Holliday said. "We both, everyone on our task force that we're on has family here, houses gone and whatnot, so, yeah, this one definitely hit home more than any fire I've ever been on, hands down."
Cal Fire Capt. Joe Chavez helped his wife and two young daughters evacuate before watching his home burn down in Paradise.
"That was definitely hard to watch, and there's still a lot of feelings I need to deal with with that," Chavez said. "I'm just glad to have my family whole because there's a lot of families out there that are not whole right now. There's a lot of people that still haven't been found ... Knowing that there are people out there that don't have a family anymore, that hurts."
Rain could hinder search for Camp Fire victims
The search for remains of victims of the Camp Fire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bring relief to firefighters on the front lines. Wearing white coveralls, hard hats and masks, teams of volunteers and search and rescue crews in Paradise and surrounding communities are poking through the smoky debris for fragments of bone before rains can wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the "realm of possibility" that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek, when the rain is expected.
Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes where they received tips that someone might have died. But they are also doing a more comprehensive, "door-to-door" and "car-to-car" search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.
Masks in high demand as wildfire affects air quality
Masks have been flying off the shelves in San Francisco as people try to protect themselves from the thick smoke drifting from the Camp Fire over 150 miles away, CBS San Francisco reports. Some stores were completely sold out.
"Maybe Monday," read a sign at Fredericksen Hardware & Paint. Store employees told CBS San Francisco that new masks will be sold behind the counter and customers will likely be limited in how many they can buy.
Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of thousands of compounds: Chemicals, gases and tiny particles that can be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports. When properly fitted, only the right kind of masks, called N95 or P100, can provide some protection.
There are potential downsides, LaPook reports. Masks can increase the work of breathing and might encourage people to do more outdoor activity, which can worsen exposure.
Death toll climbs to 79 in Camp Fire
The death toll increased to 79 in the Camp Fire , Cal Fire said Monday night. As of Monday night, the fire had burned 151,272 acres and was 70 percent contained.
According to CBS Sacramento, there are still 699 people on the list of people unaccounted for.
More than a dozen people are marked as "unknowns," without first or last names, CBS Sacramento reports. In some cases, names are listed twice or more times under different spellings. Others are confirmed dead, and their names simply haven't been taken off yet.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said he released the rough and incomplete list in hopes that people would contact authorities to say they are OK. He has called it "raw data" compiled from phone calls, emails and other reports.
"We put the list out. It will fluctuate. It will go up. It will go down because this is in a state of flux," Honea said Monday. "My view on this has been that I would prefer to get the information out and start working to find who is unaccounted for and who is not. I would put progress over perfection."
Breweries to pitch in to aid victims
Several companies around the country are brewing up some help for survivors of Northern California's devastating Camp Fire, reports CBS Sacramento. They're making a new IPA and will give sales proceeds to those in need.
"We're ready to go," said Terence Tang, General Manager at Fieldworks Brewing Company. "We really want to help out as quickly and as swiftly as possible for the people up there."
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company put out the call Friday for breweries to help make a special beer called "Resilience Butte County Proud IPA."
Fieldwork Brewing Company is one of a handful of breweries in the Sacramento region that will step up and participate in "Brew Day" on November 27.
"All of us in some way shape or form know someone that's been affected by this," Tang said. "I thought it was the perfect example of what Sierra Nevada is like as a company."
Hops and malts will be donated from various suppliers, then on Brew Day, each brewery will make as much beer as it can for the cause. One hundred percent of the eventual sales take will go directly to the Camp Fire Relief Fund.
Tang says Fieldwork had success last year selling Russian River's Sonoma Pride beer for charity, bringing in $30,000.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that that's going to be a similar number for most of these breweries," Tang said.
"It was a no-brainer," said Daniel Moffatt, Co-owner of Fountainhead Brewing Company. "We were just excited to be able to do something."
"We can come together as a community and kind of make the best of it and know that what you're doing is supporting a great cause," Moffatt said.
Sierra Nevada says it plans to release more than 2,000 barrels of Resilience IPA.
The beer won't be available right away though: Customers will have to wait until at least two weeks after it's brewed, depending on the location.
Evacuees warned to move out of flood zone
In Northern California, officials are warning evacuees in a tent city in Chico to move to shelters ahead of the expected rain, CBS News correspondent Meg Oliver reports. The tent city is located in a parking lot that is in a flood zone.
But with tens of thousands of evacuees from the Camp Fire, the question is where should they go? Kevin Hannes with FEMA said it's unclear if trailers will be brought in to handle the displaced.
Hannes said many people are in hotels or have found new places to rent, adding that the FEMA assistance center has been busy processing about 1,500 people a day. "This is not a normal disaster where we've lost a residential area," Hannes said.
"We've lost a residential and the essential elements of safety and security inside the town of Paradise specifically," Hannes said. Officials expected people to be in shelters through the Christmas holiday.
Bus driver saved 22 kids from Camp Fire
As the Camp Fire raged in the town of Paradise, a school bus driver picked up 22 students from an elementary school and drove them away from the fast-moving blaze, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan reports. "I just knew that things were going to continue to escalate," Kevin McKay told Morgan.
McKay told teachers Abbie Davis and Mary Ludwig to comfort and distract the students. "I held back from crying the entire time," Davis said. "We were so focused on those kids."
But as smoke turned the sky to night, it began to fill the bus. Some of the children said they felt tired and nauseous.
Quick thinking led McKay to pull off his shirt. The women tore it into pieces, doused them with water and showed the kids how it could help them breathe.
The teachers admitted they feared for their lives. "We were both trying to keep each other from crying," Ludwig said, "and we just kind of held hands, and we just said a prayer."
McKay drove for five hours with traffic often at a standstill and smoke obscuring his view. But he delivered the children to safety some 30 miles away.
Woman trying to find dad learns he died in fire
Telly had not heard from him since the fire struck. "He's been through war and so many things, and there's a possibility he could have made it," she told CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal last week.
Telly said she doesn't think her father made it very far from home.
More people join lawsuit against power company
Four hundred homeowners and people who lost loved ones are now part of the suit that claims the utility was negligent. "We're blaming PG&E for failing to maintain its high-tension wires and putting profits over safety," attorney Mike Danko said.
"We're blaming PG&E for not turning off the power when they promised they would and when they told all of the residents that they were going to turn off the power if necessary," Danko said. PG&E said the forecast conditions at the time didn't meet its criteria for a public safety shutoff of power.
Those criteria include low humidity levels of about 20 percent or below and sustained winds stronger than about 25 mph. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Wildfires adversely affecting many cities' air quality
As of Monday, more than 20 California cities were listed as having an air quality index of "unhealthy." Residents have been advised to stay inside as much as possible and avoid exercising outdoors.
Short-term, breathing in the smoke-filled air can lead to respiratory discomfort, and inhaling the tiny particulates in the air affects more than just the lungs.
"Once it gets past the air-blood barrier in the lungs it can go to almost any organ in the body because it travels through the blood stream," professor Ed Avol, acting director of the Environmental Health Division in the University of Southern California Department of Preventive Medicine, told CBSN.
For people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, the smoky air can exacerbate their symptoms. Avol also noted that there can be a lasting impact on unborn babies and growing children from prolonged exposure.
Camp Fire evacuees remain at makeshift shelter
Dozen of evacuees who lost their homes in the Camp Fire in Northern California remain at a makeshift camp next to a Walmart in the city of Chico, The Associated Press reports. Dozens of their tents could be seen in a photo posted Tuesday by a reporter with the newspaper Sacramento Bee.
The AP said evacuees were told to leave the sprawling parking lot before rain arrives in the area Wednesday, but some stayed because shelters wouldn't accept residents with their pets.
A note posted at the makeshift shelter says a shuttle will be available Tuesday afternoon to transport people and their pets to the Gridley Fairgrounds Shelter, AP reports.
California wildfires fast facts
These are the current numbers as of Tuesday evening from Cal Fire.
- Location: Butte County
- 152,250 acres burned
- 75 percent contained
- 81 fatalities confirmed
- 699 unaccounted for
- 17,569 structures destroyed (13,368 residences, 483 commercial and 3,718 other buildings)
- Location: Los Angeles County, Ventura County
- 96,949 acres burned
- 98 percent contained
- 3 fatalities confirmed
- 1,500 structures destroyed, 341 damaged
- Cal Fire says they are no longer in unified command tracking this wildfire