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Incoming rain brings hope — and fears — for California fire victims

An American flag hangs Sunday at a burned out mobile home park in Paradise, California. The family lost a home in the same spot to a fire 10 years ago. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The deadly Camp Fire continues to burn in northern California, and while rain in the forecast might help put out the flames, officials fear mudslides and flooding could follow.

What are the details?

As of Wednesday, the death toll from the Camp Fire had reached 81, surpassing the casualty count of the three previously worst wildfires in the state combined, according to USA Today. Roughly 870 people are still missing in and around the city of Paradise, which was devastated by the blaze.

CNN reported that nearly 1 million people in the region are under a flash-flood warning, as four to six inches of rain are expected to fall between Wednesday and Sunday.

California firefighter Chris Pappas told the Washington Post, "Major fire followed by heavy rain? It's kind of the worst-case scenario. There's just nothing to keep the soil there."

The rain forecast has sent search teams scrambling to find the remains of victims before the torched evidence can be washed away. "Once you touch it, it's powder," California Task Force Four member William Swarthout told the Post while sifting through the ashes of burnt homes. "We're afraid it will be soup," he added.

CNN meteorologist Gene Norman further explained, "Rapidly rising water could flood roads, hampering search efforts and putting displaced residents camping outdoors in peril."

Tens of  thousands of survivors have been displaced by the fires, with many setting up makeshift settlements outside evacuated areas.

According to NBC News, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has doled out $4.95 million in housing assistance thus far just for heavily hit Butte County alone, but many residents are still looking for shelter.

Since the fires began Nov. 8, more than 12,000 homes have been destroyed, the Huffington Post reported.

What about the south?

The Woolsey Fire is nearly contained in Southern California, where the National Weather Service says less than an inch of rain is expected. While the rainfall is less than the north anticipates, the south could actually be more vulnerable to mudslides because root vegetation is more likely to be destroyed by fires in that part of the state.

Three people have died in the Woolsey Fire, bringing the statewide total casualties to 84.

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