LOS ANGELES: Two more people were confirmed dead in the massive wildfires raging through northern California, with authorities expressing hope that rain and cooler temperatures will allow firefighters to gain the upper hand.
The two victims, one of whom was identified as a 67-year-old man, were discovered at their homes in the Sierra Nevada Foothills after failing to heed a mandatory evacuation order, deputy Calaveras County coroner Keith Rosa told Agence France-Presse.
Authorities said a search was under way for more possible victims from the two fires — the so-called Valley and Butte fires — that have raged through the region, destroying more than 800 homes and displacing 23,000 people.
The body of an elderly disabled woman was discovered earlier this week in the ruins of her home in Lake County.
Rainfall on Wednesday was expected to offer a reprieve for thousands of firefighters battling the flames.
“With cooler weather and rain in the forecast, that should aid firefighters on the fire line today,” Cal Fire field battalion chief Mike Smith told Agence France-Presse.
“We are trying to make as much progress today as we can because a different weather pattern is supposed to move in tomorrow.
“Heat is expected to return, along with wind, and that could change the situation.”
Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman with CalFire, said some people were being allowed back into their homes to retrieve medication, check on their belongings or their livestock but an evacuation order was still in force.
The Valley fire, described as one of the most destructive to hit the drought-stricken western United States, has charred more than 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) — an area almost three times the size of Paris — destroyed 585 homes and displaced 13,000 people, fire officials said.
The fire by Wednesday afternoon was 30 percent contained while the Butte Fire, which burned nearly 72,000 acres, was 47 percent contained.
But despite the welcome rainfall, rescuers are bracing for more wildfires as temperatures are expected to rise again at the weekend.
fueled by drought
The fires have been fueled by a long-running drought and high winds, spreading at an astonishing speed that has even surprised seasoned firefighters.
Similar fires have been raging across several states in the west of the country, including Washington and Oregon, stretching resources.
President Barack Obama expressed concern about the fires on Wednesday in a phone call to California Governor Jerry Brown.
The White House said Obama “expressed his gratitude for the brave firefighters, local authorities, and emergency managers who have worked tirelessly to combat these devastating fires and evacuate people out of harm’s way.”
Officials say the wildfires in several states, which have mobilized 30,000 firefighters from across the country, could be the costliest on record with more than $1.23 billion spent so far.
Mark Ghilarducci, the California emergency services chief, said assessment teams were being sent out into the worst affected areas in order to have the state qualify for federal disaster funds.