Warm weather could fuel Northern Calif. fire

Posted at 9:29 AM, Sep 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-18 12:29:48-04

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — As crews increase their chokehold on a deadly wildfire burning about 100 miles north of San Francisco, fire officials worry that warmer weather expected over the weekend could flare the flames further.

Nearly a week after the fire broke out in Lake County, crews increased containment to 40 percent. The fire has destroyed estimated 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned. Three people have been found dead in the fire's wake. The flames saw a half-inch of rain earlier this week, which helped containment efforts.

"We have really been working hard over the last several days (with) cooler temperatures, and even a little bit of rain fall over the fires, to build containment around the fire and put out hot spots," said California Department and Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant on Friday. "With temperatures already on the rise, and even hitting the mid-90s by this weekend, we are concerned we might see the fire flare up."

"Unfortunately the warm temperatures will quickly dry out any rainfall leaving no long-term effect from the rain," Berlant said.

Crews also gained ground on a separate 110-square-mile fire in Amador and Calaveras counties, which is about 170 miles away from Lake County. It was 60 percent contained Friday after destroying 252 homes and leaving at least two people dead.

At least one person remains missing in the Lake County fire about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Cadaver dogs found two bodies on Wednesday. They were presumed to be Bruce Beven Burns and former San Jose Mercury News police reporter Leonard Neft, though official identifications have yet to be made, the Lake County Sheriff's Department said.

Shirley Burns said her 65-year-old brother-in-law Bruce might have been sleeping in his trailer and didn't realize the fire was speeding toward him on Saturday.

On Sunday another woman, 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams, was found dead in the same area near Middletown. Thousands remained evacuated in both fires.

Lacey Null said her father, 56-year-old Edwin Null, was found safe. She had thought he was in the fire zone near Middletown and hadn't been seen or heard from since the blaze broke out Saturday. She said the family had feared the worst until he was found at the home of a friend Thursday night.

"He's safe and sound," a relieved Null said by phone. "There was no way to contact him. He hadn't contacted any of his family."

The two people who were found dead in the wildfire in Amador and Calaveras counties lived in areas where mandatory evacuation calls were issued, Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said. More than 4,300 firefighters are on the frontlines fighting the stubborn blaze.

The Sacramento Bee reports that one was identified as 66-year-old Mark McCloud, who was found Tuesday in the Mountain Ranch area. Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said 82-year-old Owen Goldsmith was found in his home earlier this week, also in Mountain Ranch.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris warned of reports of price-gouging by hotels in wildfire areas, saying her office is prepared to investigate anyone looking to wrongly profit from the destruction.

State law generally prohibits raising prices by more than 10 percent after an emergency is declared.