Nearly two weeks after the devastating Camp Fire broke out in Paradise, Calif., just 65% of the 150,000 acre fire has been contained and 1,000 people are still reported missing. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California, meanwhile, has reached 90% containment.
While hundreds of people have volunteered to assist in the efforts to search for victims of the fire, weather patterns will soon make that task more difficult. Weather reports suggest that rain could hit the parched lands of California by mid-week—potentially a boon for firefighters, but not for the ongoing search.
The rain in Southern California in particular runs the risk of causing mudslides or rockslides, which could disrupt ongoing efforts there. Such a downpour could also serve to obscure the search for remains of victims in Paradise and the surrounding area, by washing away fragments of bone or turning ash into paste. What’s more, strong winds are expected ahead of the rain, which could cause “erratic fire behavior” according to AccuWeather, worsening conditions before the arrival of the downpour.
With the added difficulty of the upcoming rain, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told CBS that he doubted the likelihood that the search could be completed ahead of the rains and that it was within the “realm of possibility” that the exact death count would never be known.
The devastation of these fires is not yet behind us, but they do shine a light on what Californians might soon be forced to recognize as the new normal: climate change will continue to create hot, dry summers, which increase the likelihood of wildfires. Scientists have already found that climate change has doubled the area that forest fires have burned since 1984, and the fluctuations between these dry years and wet years in a place like California will make this even worse.
In the short term, however, the coming storm will provide some relief for those suffering from the polluted air conditions in California. The rain should serve to improve the air quality, washing out pollutants and smoke.