WEED, Calif. — A fast-moving fire in northern California threatened hundreds of homes on Friday and authorities ordered at least 5,000 residents from three communities to leave immediately.
Residents of the towns of Weed, Lake Shastina and Edgewood must evacuate after the fire spread rapidly in hot and windy conditions, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. The factory fire had burned 1.4 square miles (3.6 square kilometers), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Sue Tavalero, the mayor of Weed, said the fire broke out on the property of Roseburg Forest Products, a sawmill north of town, and quickly burned homes in the nearby Lincoln Heights neighborhood and caused evacuation orders for thousands of people.
“It destroyed an area of the city,” she said, but later clarified that she was unsure how many houses had burned down. “The Lincoln Heights neighborhood burned houses. I don’t know how many. I am certain that several houses were lost.
Tavalero said she was out of town but returned to Weed, so she had no visuals of the fire.
She said 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 thick smoke and chunks of ash falling from massive flames near Weed, about 70 miles north of the town of Redding.
Christopher Rock, a worker at the Mayten store in Montague, a town 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Weed, said evacuees from the fire swarmed the pumps.
“It’s very busy right now,” he said. “You can’t see the flames from here, just lots of smoke.”
Marco Noriega, brewmaster at Mount Shasta Brewing Company, said they received the evacuation notice about an hour ago and fired the 10 customers and three employees. He said the power was out and they had received little information.
The smoke is in the north and the winds are blowing from the south, blowing the fire away. He looked calm as he cleaned.
“I’ve experienced it before, as long as the wind stays in its direction, it’s fine. But I know the tide is turning fast,” 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 (50 kph).
Willo Balfrey, 82, an artist from Lake Shastina, said she was painting Friday afternoon when she received a call from a California Highway Patrol grandson warning her of the rapidly spreading flames .
“He said, ‘don’t linger, get your computer, get what you need and get out of the house now. He comes to you. So I did,” Balfrey told The Associated Press.
She grabbed a suitcase full of important documents, along with water and her computer, iPhone, and chargers, and headed for the door.
“I’ve reached the philosophy that if I have all my papers, what’s in the house isn’t that important,” she said.
She pulled over to load her carless neighbor into his own vehicle and they drove about 20 miles to a church parking lot in Montague which she has already passed on her travels.
“It’s about as safe as it gets,” she said.
Balfrey said there were about 40 cars in the church parking lot, with people wondering, “what news have you got, what have you heard?”
She said she evacuated for the lava fire about two years ago and firefighters managed to keep the flames out of her subdivision. She hopes they will succeed this time too.
In Southern California, firefighters were making progress Friday against two large wildfires despite dangerously hot weather.
Containment of the roadside fire along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles increased to 37% and remained at just over 8 square miles (21 square kilometers), according to a statement from the Department of California Forests and Fire Protection.
Firefighters were focused on clearing hot spots and building more containment lines, trying to do most of the hard work before the midday heat, Cal Fire said.
California is in the throes of a prolonged heat wave. Temperatures have been so high that residents have been asked for three consecutive days to save energy in the late afternoon and evening when solar power wanes.
On Wednesday, seven firefighters working on the Route Fire in triple-digit temperatures had to be transported to hospitals for treatment of heat-related illnesses. All were released.
“Excessive heat, low humidity and steep terrain will continue to pose the greatest challenge to 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 (18 square kilometers) and containment increased to 20%.
More than 1,500 people had to evacuate the area near the US-Mexico border when the fire broke out on Wednesday. All evacuations were lifted Friday afternoon.
Two people were hospitalized with burns. Three houses and seven other buildings were destroyed.
Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
New York Post