WEED, California >> Fast-moving wildfires in rural Northern California injured several people on Friday, destroying homes and forcing thousands of residents to flee, jamming highways at the start of the sweltering Labor Day weekend.
The fire, dubbed the Milling Fire, started on or near the Roseburg Forest Products property, a factory that produces wood veneer. It quickly burned houses, propelled by 35-mph (56-kph) winds, and by night had swallowed 4 square miles (10.3 square kilometers) of land.
Annie Peterson said she was sitting on the porch of her house near the Roseburg facility when “all of a sudden we heard a big bang and all the smoke was pouring towards us.”
Very quickly his house and about a dozen others caught fire. He said members of his church helped evacuate him and his son, who was unable to move. He said the sight of smoke and fire looked like “the world is coming to an end.”
Many places in the area are also without electricity. About 9,000 customers, many of them in Weed, were hit by the power outage shortly before 1pm, according to electric power company PacifiCorp, which said they were caused by forest fires.
Suzi Brady, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said several people were injured.
Allison Hendrickson, a spokeswoman for Dignity Health North State hospital, said two people were taken to Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta. One was in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burn unit.
Meanwhile, a second fire that erupted a few miles north of the Mill Fire near the Gazelle community has scorched 600 acres (243 acres) and prompted several evacuations.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Siskyou County and said a federal grant had been received “to help ensure the availability of vital resources to extinguish the fires.”
California is in the grip of a prolonged drought and now a brutal heatwave is weighing on the power grid as people try to stay calm. Residents have been asked for three consecutive days to conserve power in the afternoon and evening when energy consumption is highest.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make more extreme weather and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in the state’s history.
Southern California saw two large fires break out earlier this week. The last evacuation order for them was lifted around the time the Factory Fire started at noon Friday. The fire spread quickly and about 7,500 people were under evacuation orders covering the small town of Weed and its surroundings, which is about 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
Dr. Deborah Higer, medical director at Shasta View Treatment Center, said all 23 patients at the facility were evacuated, with 20 going to a local hospital and three staying in her own home, where hospital beds were set up.
Olga Hood heard about the fire in her scanner and stepped onto the front porch of her Weed house to watch smoke blowing over the next hill.
With a gust of wind destroying the city at the foot of Mount Shasta, he did not wait for the evacuation order. He packed up documents, medicine and other belongings, said his granddaughter, Cynthia Jones.
“With the wind on Weed things like that move quickly. That’s bad,” Jones said by telephone from his home in Medford, Oregon. “It’s not uncommon to have gusts of 50 to 60 mph on a typical day. I was thrown into the river as a child. ”
The Hood House for nearly three decades was spared last year’s fires and from the Boles Fire that devastated the city eight years ago, destroying more than 160 buildings, mostly homes.
Hood wept as he discussed the fire from a relative’s home in the hamlet of Granada, Jones said. She couldn’t collect the photos that were important to her late husband.
Willo Balfrey, 82, an artist from Lake Shastina, said he was painting Friday afternoon when his grandson, who is a member of the California Highway Patrol, called to warn him of the rapidly spreading fire.
“He said, ‘don’t linger, grab your computer, grab what you need and get out of the house now. It’s coming your way.’ So I did it,” said Balfrey.
He grabbed a briefcase full of important documents, as well as water and his computer, iPhone and charger, and headed for the door.
“I’ve come to the philosophy that if I have all my paperwork, what’s in the house doesn’t really matter,” he said.
He stopped to get to his neighbors and they drove to the church parking lot in Montague, where about 40 other vehicles were also parked.
Rebecca Taylor, director of communications for Roseburg Forest Products based in Springfield, Oregon, said it was unclear whether the fire started near or on company property. A large vacant building on the edge of company property caught fire, he said. All employees were evacuated, and no one reported injuries, he said.
The factory employed 145 people, although not all were working at the time, Taylor said.
“We are very sad to see these fires affect the community in this way,” he said.
In Southern California, firefighters made progress Friday against two major wildfires.
The Route Fire containment along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles increased to 56 percent and remains at more than 8 square miles (21 square kilometers), a Cal Fire statement said. On Wednesday, seven firefighters working in triple-digit temperatures had to be taken to hospital for heat illness treatment. All released.
In the area east of San Diego, the 32 Border Fires remained under 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and containment increased to 65%. More than 1,500 people had to flee areas near the US-Mexico border when the fires broke out Wednesday. All evacuations were lifted on Friday afternoon.
Two people were hospitalized for burns. Three houses and seven other buildings were destroyed.