Rains have King fire teams in mop-up mode; mudslides possible

Rain is both blessing and curse for the firefighters battling the King fire

Heavy rains throughout the weekend have helped firefighters tamp down the King Fire in the El Dorado National Forest, but the damp conditions have also sparked fear of mudslides.

The fire which has burned through more than 97,000 acres while emitting a smoke plume visible in neighboring states, was 87% contained on Sunday morning. Intermittent rains over the last few weeks have helped prevent the fire's spread, but slippery conditions have also forced firefighters to pull back their trucks and inhibited access to the fire.

"The rain is good for us in one way, and bad in another," said Jerry Rohnert, a Cal Fire information officer.

Rohnert could not say when firefighters will have the fire fully contained, but he says firefighters are in "mop up mode." As of Sunday morning, the fire consisted largely of smoldering trees and brush and few visible flames.

A peak deployment of more than 8,000 firefighters has been cut to about 4,800. All evacuation orders have been lifted and some residents have returned to their homes, though some roads are still closed to allow firefighters to transport equipment.

But without trees and vegetation to hold the ground together and rain turning hillsides to mush, firefighters are bracing for the possibility of mudslides and debris flows, Rohnert said. At least one homeowner has called about a mudslide behind his house. The rain is expected to continue through Sunday and into Monday, Rohnert said.

The fire risk is not over, Rohnert said. In some places, where the canopy of the El Dorado National Forest is thick, rain hasn't been able to extinguish the fires burning in the brush beneath. Airborne cinders could carry fires to new places. Warm and dry conditions are expected to return on Monday.

"This is going to be a long process," Rohnert said.

The King Fire flared to life more than two weeks ago and quickly became the state's second largest wildfire of 2014. At least 12 homes and 68 other buildings have been destroyed by the fire, and 289 other structures are still at risk.

Investigators believe the King Fire was caused by arson.

Wayne Huntsman, 37, a resident of the nearby community of Pollock Pines, was arrested and charged with arson on Sept. 19.

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