California wildfire grows, at least 1 500 people under evacuation orders

2018-06-27 09:34

A Northern California wildfire that has burned some two dozen homes and buildings gained thousands of acres on Tuesday as it burned through tinder-dry chaparral, and residents who were forced to flee a tiny rural community had no idea when they can return.

The fire that burned some two dozen homes and other buildings since Saturday continued to threaten about 600 buildings in Lake County, north of San Francisco. The entire Spring Valley area was under evacuation orders, state fire officials said.

At least 1 500 people and as many as 3 000 fell into that zone.

State fire officials said highs in the 80s, low humidity and erratic winds pushed the blaze to 13 000 acres (or about 52.5 square kilometres) on Tuesday and the same weather was expected on Wednesday.

However, fire crews also gained on the blaze, which was 17% contained. Some 2 700 firefighters and more than a dozen aircraft fought the flames.

The humidity has been tending to rise at night, dampening the fire's spread but "sometimes it can actively burn through the night," warned Anthony Brown with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"Once daylight comes up ... it starts to get dried out again."

Spring Valley resident Deborah Edwards, 67, was seven hours out of town when her neighbour called to alert her about the mandatory evacuation – the third evacuation order Edwards has had to follow in the past few years. She and her husband drove back to collect their Labradors from an evacuation centre where the neighbour had taken them.

State of emergency

"We've done this enough times so we can go ahead and go," she said. "I had all my important papers in a place beforehand so the neighbour knew what to take."

California officials said the same hot, dry conditions and drought-stricken vegetation led to the state's deadliest and most destructive fire year in 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency in rural Lake County. The declaration will enable officials to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery.

Jim Steele, an elected supervisor, said the county is impoverished and its fire-fighting equipment antiquated. He also said the county has just a few roads into and out of the region, which can hinder response time.

The blaze is the latest in the county of just 65 000 people in the last few years. In 2015, a series of fires destroyed 2 000 buildings and killed four people. The following year, an arsonist started a fire that wiped out 300 buildings.

Last year, the county was among those ravaged by a string of fires that ripped through Northern California wine country.

"I think we're all just so traumatised and overwhelmed with all these fires year after year, this whole community is at a breaking point," said Terri Gonsalves, 55, who evacuated her home around midnight on Sunday.

Residents also fled wildfires in Shasta and Tuolumne counties. At least a dozen blazes are burning throughout California. No cause has been determined for any of the fires.

Last year, California's costliest fires killed 44 people and tore through the state's wine country in October, causing an estimated $10bn in damage.

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