Three large wildfires continued to burn across northern California on Saturday in hot, dry conditions which experts have had warning for months that this fire season could be severe.
The most destructive was the salt fire in Shasta County, which officials said burned 27 homes and 14 outbuildings as it reached 7,467 acres on Saturday morning.
The blaze posed a threat to the communities of Lakehead, Pollock and Riverview, home to several resorts, RV parks and primary residences, authorities said. Evacuation orders remained in place.
The fire also damaged some of Pacific Gas & Electric’s electrical infrastructure, including a high-voltage power line and an electrical substation, officials said.
Fire started wednesday afternoon when a vehicle traveling north on Interstate 5 sent sparks into the dry vegetation along the road, authorities said.
Firefighters were able to use cooler weather to reinforce containment lines along the I-5 corridor on Friday evening, but said the highway remained under threat.
The fire had spread to Campbell Creek and continued to spread north towards the Crane Mountain area, officials said. Parts of the blaze were starting to reach scars from burns from the Delta and Hirz fires in 2018, said Dennis Burns, fire behavior analyst with the California 2 Incident Management Team.
“That tells you there’s a lot of fire history in this area,” Burns said. “When that fire started it was like the only area that didn’t burn and now we are moving towards an area that has burned which gives us opportunities. The fuels are a little less dense.
Nearly 500 people were battling the blaze, which was 5% contained on Saturday morning.
Further north, near the border with Oregon, the Tennant fire had burned 10,012 acres and was 17% contained by Saturday morning. Although the area appears to have increased overnight, this is the result of more accurate infrared mapping, said Ervin Barragan, public information manager for the California Interagency Incident Management Team 15.
The fire destroyed two houses, a commercial building and two outbuildings, he said.
“The winds have been fairly calm,” Barragan said on Saturday. “We’re just trying to contain the fire a bit more, but nothing amazing is happening today.”
Nearly 700 people were affected in the blaze, which broke out on the east side of Klamath National Forest late Monday afternoon near Highway 97 and Tennant Road. His case was under investigation.
The region was unusually warm for the season, with forecasts calling for highs of 93 to 101 degrees and a heat advisory in effect through Sunday, said Misty Firmin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.
Already, the drought has resulted in a below-average snowpack that melted earlier than usual and parched vegetation. Now in July, firefighters say they are seeing more typical burning conditions for August.
In the southwest, 1,420 people were battling the lava blaze, which spanned 24,460 acres and was 26% contained by Saturday morning. More than 2,300 residents remain under evacuation orders.
The blaze was one of several lightning-triggered fires in the Siskiyou-Trinity National Forest on the night of June 24. The teams worked until the next day and thought they had put out the fire at a quarter acre, but about an hour later it flared up again and within days became the biggest of the season in California so far.
The fire has drawn attention to a protracted dispute between Siskiyou County authorities and Hmong marijuana growers over access to water in the Shasta Vista subdivision, where some of the farms are located. Tensions peaked amid evacuations on Monday, when law enforcement officers shot dead a man who allegedly tried to bypass a roadblock and wielded a handgun at officers, authorities said.
In addition, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday arrested 14 people in and around the subdivision for entering and refusing to leave the evacuation area, the sheriff’s office said on Saturday. Among them, a man who allegedly manned a roadblock and pushed a county employee with his vehicle, the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities continued to monitor the roads and arrest remaining residents as they exited the housing estate days later, with the arrests only taking place on Saturday morning, said Ed Szendrey, a private investigator who works with law firms that represent some of the residents in other legal matters. Those arrested were taken to Yreka, booked and released with notice to appear in court, he said.
The aggressive stance was surprising, said Szendrey, who previously worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and retired as the chief investigator of the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.
“It was the past, if someone stood firm to protect their property even if there was an evacuation, that was the chance they took,” he said. Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
In an effort to curb outdoor marijuana cultivation, which is illegal in Siskiyou County, the county first criminalized the sale of water to farms, then in May banned tankers carrying 100 gallons or more. more to circulate on certain roads which lead there.
This was met with allegations of racism from residents. There are many outdoor marijuana crops in the area, but the only routes targeted were those leading to Hmong communities, said lawyer Allison B. Margolin, who represents some of the community members as they challenge the order in federal court.
In a motion for a temporary restraining order filed earlier this month, which a judge dismissed, Margolin stressed the importance of tankers being able to enter the subdivision so residents can quickly fight the fires. . It may take a while for Cal Fire to get to the remote area, she said.
The day after the ordinance was passed, Margolin wrote, a fire broke out in the subdivision and two houses burned down before the fire trucks arrived.
It was a disturbing glimpse last week, when residents found themselves unable to defend their properties as the lava blaze approached, she said.
“It was all predicted,” Margolin said on Saturday.
Officials have not yet revealed whether the buildings were destroyed in the lava blaze, saying crews are continuing to assess the damage. Szendrey, who visited the housing estate on Tuesday, said he saw burned-out cars and a destroyed fifth-wheel trailer, but a number of houses appeared to have been saved, which he attributed to the efforts of Hmong residents.
“I saw them using buckets to spot fires,” he said. “I saw a man put out a fire at the foot of a tree by standing on his hands and throwing dirt on them.
Szendrey said he received complaints from residents that firefighters were lined up on Highway 812 on Monday and would not enter the subdivision until everyone was evacuated.
As of Tuesday, firefighters had entered, he said, but he saw no one actively fighting the blaze except members of the Hmong community.
“I don’t know why it is other than there is this perception that they are supposedly in this very dangerous area,” he said. “I didn’t see any weapons. I haven’t seen anyone trying to protect the marijuana crops. I’ve seen people just try to put out a fire.
Officials said the only time firefighters interrupted operations in the area was for a brief period immediately after the shooting, but they have been actively firing there ever since.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.