Catastrophic Northern California fire is finally contained


The grim search for human remains has continued for days in the hard-hit town of Paradise, but it came temporarily to a standstill Friday after rain and strong winds made fire-weakened trees risky, CNN affiliate KCRA reported.

The office of the Butte County Sheriff said that 249 people remained unaccounted for - a steep drop from 474 missing reported earlier in the day.

More than 5,000 firefighters from all western states as far as South Dakota and Texas had been struggling with the fire on the scene for about two weeks before rains that moved into Northern California last Wednesday doused the flames and helped them gain more control of the blaze. In the long run, the Los Angeles Times noted, a Butte County homeless population already estimated at 2,000 is likely to grow, while other people are likely to leave the state.

Craig Covey, leading a search team from southern California's Orange County, said those looking through the devastation in Paradise and two nearby communities were not told to stop, but that he chose to take a break until the rain cleared.

The fire, which ignited on November 8, has destroyed around 14,000 homes and resulted in at least 85 deaths.

The firefight was boosted last week from the first significant winter storm to hit California.

Heavy downfalls that have soaked the fire zone in the past days helped douse the remaining flames, but also made it more hard for crews searching for bodies.

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The rain helped extinguish hotspots in smoldering areas, and containment increased to 95 percent.

AC Brown of the Pasadena Fire Department said the team, which spent Thanksgiving away from their families, did excellent work together.

Almost 19,000 buildings, a lot of them homes, are gone.

"Everyone here is super committed to helping the folks here", he said.

In Southern California, more residents have returned to areas evacuated in a destructive fire as crews repaired power, telephone and gas utilities. At the height of the fire, 250,000 fled their homes. The number was revised down from 475 as people who were believed missing were found in shelters, staying in hotels or with friends, officials said, adding that many had not known they were on the list.

"We will be with them every step of the way", Perdue said.