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Northern California wildfires prompt thousands to flee homes

UPDATED: Mon., June 25, 2018, 12:48 p.m.

An air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire burning above the Spring Lakes community on Sunday, June 24, 2018, near Clearlake Oaks, Calif. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)
An air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire burning above the Spring Lakes community on Sunday, June 24, 2018, near Clearlake Oaks, Calif. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO – Hundreds of Northern California homes and businesses were threatened Monday after wind-driven wildfires broke out over the weekend, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes throughout rural regions north of San Francisco.

The biggest fires continued to grow but there were no reports of injuries or deaths, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

About 3,000 residents evacuated homes in Lake County. A wildfire there that was not contained and destroyed at least 22 homes and buildings, the agency reported.

Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox said more than 230 firefighters using helicopters, bulldozers and other equipment were battling the Lake County fire in a rugged area that made it difficult to get equipment close.

“It’s kind of the worst possible combination,” Cox said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake County, enabling it to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery afterward.

The rural region was hit hard in 2015 by a fire that killed four people and destroyed 2,000 buildings.

Terri Gonsalves, 55, evacuated her home around midnight Sunday, putting four goats into her truck. She had been monitoring another fire that appeared to be moving away, but then she looked out her back window and saw a big hill aflame.

“Holy cow, it’s right here,” she said she thought. “I’m outta here.”

She is staying with her daughter in nearby Middletown. “I think we’re all just so traumatized and overwhelmed with all these fires year after year, this whole community is at a breaking point,” she said, but added, “When this stuff happens, we rally around each other.”

Authorities also ordered residents to evacuate in Tehama County, where two wildfires were burning. Multiple homes and businesses in the city of Red Bluff were destroyed.

A Red Bluff police officer helping residents evacuate lost his home to the smaller wildfire, authorities said. Red Bluff Police Lt. Matt Hansen said about $10,000 in cash along with furniture and clothing has been donated to the family as they search for a rental home.

Residents also fled a wildfire in Shasta County.

No cause has been determined for any of the fires.

Officials said hot weather, high winds and dry conditions were fueling the fires less than a year after California’s costliest fires killed 44 people and tore through the state’s wine country in October, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage.

Downed power lines were blamed for 12 of the two dozen 2017 fires. The causes of the other fires are under investigation.

While the blazes were the first major ones of the season to hit California, others have raged throughout the west for weeks.

Earlier this month, a Colorado wildfire forced residents of more than 2,000 homes to evacuate.

The last of the evacuees were allowed to return home last week after rain put a damper on the blaze although the fire has started to grow again as the weather has dried out.

The fire north of Durango was in the Four Corners Region where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet – the epicenter of a large U.S. Southwest swath of exceptional drought, the worst category of drought.

Moderate to extreme drought conditions affect larger areas of those four states plus parts of Nevada, California, Oregon, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.


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