Thousands told to flee ahead of fast-growing California wildfires: ‘It’s coming your way’
WEED, Calif. — A fast-moving fire in Northern California threatened hundreds of homes Friday and authorities ordered at least 5,000 residents across three communities to leave immediately.
Residents of the towns of Weed, Lake Shastina and Edgewood to evacuate after the blaze spread quickly in hot and windy conditions, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. The Mill Fire had burned 1.4 square miles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Sue Tavalero, the mayor of Weed, said the fire started on the property of Roseburg Forest Products, a lumber mill north of town, and quickly burned through homes in the nearby neighborhood of Lincoln Heights and prompted evacuation orders for thousands of people.
“It has taken out a neighborhood in town,” she said, but then clarified that she was not sure exactly how many homes had burned. “The Lincoln Heights neighborhood has burnt houses in it. I don’t know how many. I’m positive several homes have been lost.”
Tavalero said she was out of town but headed back to Weed, so she did not have visuals of the fire.
She said the evacuation orders for all of Weed and nearby areas of Lake Shastina and Edgewood covered a combined population of about 7,500 people.
Evacuees described heavy smoke and chunks of ash raining down from massive flames near Weed, about 70 miles north of the city of Redding.
Christopher Rock, an employee at the Mayten Store in Montague, a town 30 miles north of Weed, said evacuees from the fire had swarmed the pumps.
“It’s really busy right now,” he said. “You can’t see the flames from here, just a lot of smoke.”
Marco Noriega, brewmaster at Mount Shasta Brewing Company, said they received the notice to evacuate about an hour ago and he sent the 10 customers and three employees away. He said the power is out and they have received little information.
Smoke is to the north and winds are blowing from the south, keeping the fire away. He sounded calm as he cleaned up.
“I’ve been through it before, so long as the wind stays in the direction it is, I’m all right. But I know the wind switches quickly,” he said by phone.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for Siskiyou County from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday when winds in the Weed area were expected to reach up to 31 mph.
Willo Balfrey, 82, an artist from Lake Shastina, said she was painting on Friday afternoon when she got a call from a grandson in the California Highway Patrol to warn her of the fast-spreading flames.
“He said, ‘don’t linger, grab your computer, grab what you need and get out of the house now. It’s coming your way.’ So I did,” Balfrey told The Associated Press.
She grabbed a suitcase full of important documents, as well as water and her computer, iPhone and chargers, and headed out the door.
“I’ve reached the philosophy that if I have all my paperwork, what’s in the house is not that important,” she said.
She stopped to load her car-less neighbor into her own vehicle and they drove about 20 miles away to a church parking lot in Montague she’s passed before in her travels.
“That’s about as safe as you can get,” she said.
Balfrey said there are about 40 cars in the church’s parking lot, with people asking one another, “what news do you have, what have you heard?”
She said she evacuated for the Lava Fire about two years ago and firefighters were able to keep the flames out of her subdivision. She hopes they will be successful this time as well.
South state wildfires
In Southern California, firefighters were making progress Friday against two big wildfires despite dangerously hot weather.
Containment of the Route Fire along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles increased to 37% and it remained at just over 8 square miles in size, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection statement said.
Firefighters were focusing on mopping up hotspots and building more containment lines, trying to get most of the hard work done before the midday heat, Cal Fire said.
California is in the grip of a prolonged heat wave. Temperatures have been so high that residents have been asked for three consecutive days to conserve power during late afternoon and evening hours when solar energy declines.
On Wednesday, seven firefighters working the Route Fire in triple-digit temperatures had to be taken to hospitals for treatment of heat illnesses. All were released.
“Excessive heat, low humidity and steep terrain will continue to pose the biggest challenge for firefighters,” Cal Fire said.
The tally of destroyed structures remained at two, and all evacuation orders were lifted.
In eastern San Diego County, the Border 32 Fire remained at just under 7 square miles and containment increased to 20%.
More than 1,500 people had to evacuate the area near the U.S.-Mexico border when the fire erupted Wednesday. All evacuations were lifted by Friday afternoon.
Two people were hospitalized with burns. Three homes and seven other buildings were destroyed.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.