Two fast-moving fires have scorched more than 100,000 acres in Northern California, forcing thousands to flee their homes and injuring firefighters struggling to contain the flames.
California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Sunday in Lake and Napa counties after the Valley Fire, which started Saturday afternoon northwest of Sacramento, continued to grow. That fire had burned at least 40,000 acres – about 63 square miles – as of Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
“The Valley Fire is currently burning out of control,” said the Lake County Sheriff’s Department in an alert sent out to residents ordering mandatory evacuations in the communities of Clearlake Riviera and Riviera West. Residents were instructed to gather their pets, medications and important papers.
More than 17,000 people as of Sunday afternoon had been forced from their homes, and more than 9,000 structures were threatened, reported KXTV.
An unknown number of structures were destroyed. The cause of the Valley Fire, which started near the community of Cobb, is under investigation. Four firefighters suffered second degree burns while fighting the blaze and were in stable condition, said CAL FIRE’s chief public information officer Daniel Berlant in a briefing broadcast on Periscope Sunday afternoon.
“This has been a very destructive fire,” Berlant said, noting that the towns of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake have been hard hit by the fire, which has pushed to the southeast near the border of Lake and Napa counties. Wind-blown embers and ashes have resulted in 40,000 acres of drought-parched brush and trees burning in less than 12 hours, he said. “Evacuations are widespread throughout the area,” Berlant said.
Meanwhile firefighters were making some progress combating the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties. As of Sunday it was about 20% contained, and covered 66,215 acres, or an area of about 101 square miles, according to CAL FIRE. It had destroyed at least 86 homes and 51 outbuildings so far. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday for Amador and Calaveras.
Berlant said the fires are sending large columns of smoke into the atmosphere, which is drifting across the state.
A cloud of haze descended on Reno from the wildfires burning in Northern California and it was forecast to blanket the Sierra Nevada region through Tuesday, a local National Weather Service forecaster told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s going be really bad around Lake Tahoe,” said meteorologist Jim Wallmann said Sunday.
Berlant noted that the Valley and Butte fires are just two of about a dozen active fires burning in California, which has had significant fire problems due to drought producing tinder-dry conditions. Another fire of note, he said, is the Rough Fire, which has been burning since late July in the area of the Sierra National Forest. The Rough Fire, which is 31% contained and has burned more than 130,000 acres, is one of the largest fires in the state’s history, he said.
— CAL FIRE PIO (@CALFIRE_PIO) September 12, 2015