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249 people still unaccounted for as Camp Fire is nearly contained

After more than two weeks battling a raging inferno, firefighters are getting closer to containing the Camp Fire that has killed 85 people in Northern California.

Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency, revised the death toll from an earlier count of 87. At least 249 people remain missing, down from more than 1,000 days earlier, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.

California’s deadliest wildfire, which started November 8, remained 98% contained after rain helped firefighters extinguish some of the hot spots, Cal Fire said Saturday.

“The fire line that remains uncontained is located in steep and rugged terrain where it is unsafe for firefighters to access due to the heavy rains,” Cal Fire said. Firefighters continue to monitor the area and will reassess when it’s safe.

Search for remains continues

After days of rain, all flood warnings and watches have expired in the state, with dry weather expected Saturday, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

While heavy rains can cause floods under normal circumstances, the scorched grounds in the area were especially susceptible to mudslides and flowing debris.

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 dangerous, CNN affiliate KCRA reported. The search resumed after the winds calmed down.

“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 the TV station.

Rain helped with hot spots

Covey’s part of the effort to recover remains. He said while the rain helped douse some of the fire and made things easier for the dogs helping out, it also complicated search efforts.

“One of the things that it (rain) does do is, it does concentrate the scent into a smaller compartment because of all the ash that was flying around,” he told KCRA. “It more compacts it, centralizes it and the dogs (looking for remains) can be very successful in that.”

But too much rain can also wash away remains or bury them in the caked mud, making them harder to find.

Now that the rains have subsided, crews will assess the areas where the fire was still burning in steep terrain. Cal Fire said it soon expects to have the blaze fully contained.