Fire that destroyed US town nearly out

Rain has helped extinguish a deadly wildfire in Northern California's Gold Rush country, but the moisture also turned ash into thick paste and hindered the hunt for telltale fragments of bone that could indicate a body.

Searchers resumed their grim task on Friday afternoon after a downpour eased up in Paradise, California.

They fanned out across the ruins of a mobile home park shrouded in heavy fog, some combing debris with rakes while others lifted up twisted metal to peer underneath or led dogs through the ash.

This particular park had already been searched by humans and dogs, as evidenced by orange spray-paint markings left by search teams to indicate they have canvassed an area.

But Craig Covey, who leads a search team from Southern California's Orange County, said they were searching it again because it was the last known address of people who remained missing, many of them elderly.

The searchers wore yellow rain slickers and hard hats to protect against falling branches as they quietly looked for clues that may indicate someone couldn't get out, such as a car in the driveway or a wheelchair ramp.

They looked not only for bone, but anything that could be a pile of cremated ashes.

The nation's deadliest wildfire in the past century has killed at least 84 people, and more than 560 are still unaccounted for.

Despite the inclement weather, more than 800 volunteers searched for remains on Thanksgiving and again Friday, two weeks after flames swept through the Sierra Nevada foothills, authorities said.

Prior to searching the mobile home park, Covey's team of about 30 worked for several hours Friday morning before stopping and returning to a staging area with hot coffee, food and a small electric heater for warmth. Covey decided the heavy winds and rain had made the conditions too dangerous to keep searching.

While rain complicated the search, it also helped nearly extinguish the blaze, said Josh Bischof, operations chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In Northern California, the workers on the ground tried to keep their minds on the task at hand rather than the tragedy of the situation.

"The guys will never say it's hard," said David Kang, a member of the search team from Orange County. "But it is."