Siskiyou County endures one of its worst summers in California's 'fire year'

Damon Arthur
Redding Record Searchlight
The Mill Fire burns north of Weed in the Lake Shastina subdivision on Friday afternoon. The fire started at 12:49 p.m. Sept. 2, closing Highway 97 near Weed and prompting evacuations in Lake Shastina, Edgewood and Weed. It grew to 2,580 acres by 6:30 p.m.

With nine months of the year in the rearview mirror, 2022 has been unusual for wildland fires in Shasta County, which stands in stark contrast to Siskiyou County to the north, which endured a deadly summer of fires.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 27, 555 acres had burned in Shasta County since Jan. 1, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection statistics.

The wildland that has burned this year is less than any other full year in at least the past 10 years, according to Cal Fire.

So far, there have been only five fires that reached at least 10 acres in Shasta County, according to Cal Fire. The state does not keep records on its website of fires less than 10 acres.

Siskiyou, on the other hand, has had at least 15 fires that were 10-plus acres that torched more than 86,000 acres. That represents nearly a quarter of the acres that have burned statewide as of Monday, Sept. 26. 

Cal Fire spokeswoman Cheryl Buliavac said the agency responds to many other smaller fires throughout the year that aren't listed on the website.

But fire experts say that even though the days are getting cooler and shorter, there is still potential for fires to ignite and quickly spread.

"Yeah, fire season's not over. We're talking about a 'fire year' these days, and that there's always the potential for fire activity," said Christine McMorrow, a Cal Fire spokeswoman. 

'It's always fire season':Residents describe fast-moving, destructive Mill Fire

The brush and trees that firefighters call fuel for wildfires have been left very dry due to the drought that has dragged on for the past three years, she said.

So far this year, only 6 inches of rain has fallen in Redding, well below the 21-inch average for late September, according to the National Weather Service. 

'Opportunity for fires year-round'

The National Drought Monitor also lists most of the North State in an "extreme drought."

"So when we have prolonged drought, excessive fuels, all of that, we have that opportunity for fires year-round. And so the opportunity for a big fire to still happen is absolutely there," McMorrow said. 

Over the past five years, many large and devastating fires have burned throughout the state in the fall and winter, she said, which is why state officials no longer refer to a "fire season," but instead talk about a "fire year."

The Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in state history, started in November 2018 in Butte County.

'It was chaos':Camp Fire storms through Paradise, triggering chaotic evacuation

J.D. Krieger, right, looks for the urn that contains the ashes of his father, John Krieger, along with half-brother Tony Platz, left, and close friend Eddie McNamara on July 15. Minutes later they found the urn in the home that was destroyed in the Peter Fire.

Driven by strong winds, the blaze burned 153,336 acres, destroying nearly the entire town of Paradise. The fire destroyed 18,804 buildings and killed 85 people who could not get out of the way of the fast-moving flames.

Another example of a deadly autumn blaze occurred in Shasta County in 2020.

Through the summer, fires had burned only 335 acres in the county, according to Cal Fire's website stats. But then on Sept. 27, the Zogg Fire broke out in the western part of the county.

Another wind-driven fire, the blaze went on to burn 56,338 acres, kill four people and destroy 204 buildings in the Igo-Ono area.

6 homes destroyed:Crews gain 100% containment of Peter Fire outside Anderson

From Sept. 27 to Oct. 25 in 2020, wildfires burned 56,751 acres in Shasta County, according to Cal Fire figures. 

On Oct. 25, 2020, three fires burned 413 acres in the county, blackening more ground than during the entire previous summer, according to Cal Fire. Some of the acres burned Oct. 25 were part of the Point Fire, which burned in Shasta and Tehama counties, according to Cal Fire.

How bad is the drought? Driest in 12 centuries – ‘and it could get a whole lot worse’

The largest fire in the county this year has been the Peter Fire, which started July 14 and burned 304 acres west of Anderson. The blaze also destroyed six homes and 10 outbuildings.

While Shasta County has so far this year been spared the damage of large wildfires, Siskiyou County has endured one of its deadliest and most destructive summers for fires.

The McKinney Fire near Yreka, California, has grown to more than 56,000 acres and four people have been confirmed killed near Klamath River.

The McKinney Fire broke out July 29 near the tiny community of Klamath River, about 10 miles west of Yreka. The fire went on to burn 60,138 acres, kill four people and destroy 185 structures.

Although PacifiCorp utility, which provides electricity to residents in the area, has been accused of starting the fire through an equipment malfunction, Cal Fire has not determined a cause of the blaze. 

'Just walking around here stunned':Peter Fire damages tortoise sanctuary

Then on Sept. 2, the Mill Fire started at the Roseburg Forest Products mill property in Weed and quickly spread some 7 miles north, pushed by strong winds. The fire eventually burned 3,935 acres before it was stopped in the community of Lake Shastina.

The blaze killed two people and destroyed 118 structures.

The Mountain Fire also broke out the same day of the Mill Fire. The blaze started near the community of Gazelle. Crews surrounded that fire on Sept. 21 at 13,440 acres. Two people were injured and four structures were destroyed.

Insurance crisis:California to protect policies in fire areas, ban insurers from dropping customers

Cal Fire has also not released the cause of the Mill Fire, but Roseburg officials said the fire was likely caused by a malfunctioning piece of equipment used to cool ash from an adjacent electricity producing co-generation plant.

The lower number of acres burned in Shasta County has not been limited to the North State. Total acres burned across California is far below the 5-year average, according to Cal Fire.

The Mill Fire torched pine trees along a street in the Lake Shastina Subdivision northwest of Weed on Sept. 2. The Mill Fire erupted that afternoon in the area of the Roseburg Forest Products mill in Weed and raced out of control, forcing residents in that Northern California community, Lake Shastina and Edgewood to flee their homes.

As of Monday, Sept. 26, Cal Fire listed 365,748 acres burned statewide by wildfires. The five-year average is 1.7 million acres, and last year 2.5 million acres burned.

Only once in the past 10 years has less than 300,000 acres burned in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In 2019, 259,148 acres burned across the state. Even though the number of acres burned in California was far below its average in 2019, the state was still among the top five for wildfire acres burned that year, according to the center's historical statistics.

Related:Thousands flee, several hurt as Mill Fire scorches Weed, Lake Shastina

The fire center tweeted that as of Sept. 26 the top five states for acres burned this year did not include California, instead listing in order of number of acres burned 1. Alaska 2. New Mexico 3. Texas 4. Idaho and 5. Oregon.

The tweet said Oregon made the list with 323,256 acres burned this year, fewer acres than have been torched in California.

When asked why California wasn't included in the top five, a spokeswoman for the agency acknowledged the discrepancy.

"I heard back from our Intel group and they noted that the stats used for the chart have not caught up yet and are a work in progress. They recommend using the numbers reported by Cal Fire at this point, 365,748 estimated acres burned," fire center spokeswoman Tina Boehle said in an email. 

Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 by email at and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!