PLACERVILLE, Calif. – A wildfire burning for a week in Northern California continued to grow out of control, one of about a dozen big blazes in the drought-stricken state that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
There was zero containment Sunday of the Caldor Fire, which had charred nearly 154 square miles of trees and brush in the northern Sierra Nevada after breaking out Aug. 14. The cause was under investigation.
Firefighters hoped to take advantage of calmer weather and cooler temperatures a day after gusts pushed the fire across U.S. Route 50, threatening more remote communities in El Dorado County.
Erratic winds sent embers flying into tinder-dry fuel beds, starting new ignition points and challenging crews trying to chase down the flames in rugged terrain.
“We know this fire has done things that nobody could have predicted, but that’s how firefighting has been in the state this year,” Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Chief Jeff Marsolais said.
Multiple large wildfires have incinerated at least 700 homes, many in and around the Sierra Nevada communities of Greenville and Grizzly Flats. About 13,000 residences remained under threat in communities tucked away in scenic forests.
The fires have burned roughly 2,300 square miles and have sent smoke as far as the East Coast. They were burning in grass, brush and forest that is exceptionally dry from two years of drought likely exacerbated by climate change.
Nine national forests in California have been closed because of the fire threat.
To the northwest of the Caldor Fire, the massive Dixie Fire also kept expanding. In five weeks, the blaze about 175 miles northeast of San Francisco became the second-largest in state history and blackened an area twice the size of Los Angeles. It was 37% contained.
In Central California, evacuation orders remain in place for rural communities near the French Fire northeast of Bakersfield in Kern County. That blaze grew to about 21 square miles and was 10% contained.
California is one of a dozen mostly Western states where 94 large, active fires were burning as of Sunday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Fires have intensified across the entire West, creating a nearly year-round season that has taxed firefighters. Fire patterns used to migrate in seasons from the Southwest to the Rockies, to the Pacific Northwest and then California, allowing fire crews to move from one place to the next, said Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.