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Northern California wildfire wipes out entire neighborhood

Jane Coolidge and her husband, Bruce, were driving past the town of Weed, California on Friday when they saw a huge plume of black smoke.

Flames had engulfed a large commercial building and debris hit their truck as it tumbled onto the highway. Scraps of material landed in dry grass and brush, starting localized fires on both sides of the road.

“It was heartbreaking,” Coolidge said.

The factory fire appears to have started near the Roseburg Forest Products property and spread to nearby homes in the historically black community of Lincoln Heights within minutes, Weed Mayor Kim Greene said. It quickly became an urban conflagration as flames moved from house to house, the majority of them older wooden structures, she said.

“Wildfire is no longer in the desert,” she said. “It’s just inside the city limits.”

The commercial structure that caught fire was an old building that once housed a planing mill and is now used to store spare parts for the active Roseburg veneer mill, which was not involved in the fire said Rebecca Taylor, director of communications for Springfield, Ore.-based wood products company. No mining activity is taking place in the building and it is unclear whether the fire started there or nearby, she said.

Authorities had not yet determined the number of homes destroyed as of Saturday afternoon, but said they were working quickly to assess the damage.

Firefighters reported 20% containment of the blaze, which burned 3,921 acres, triggered evacuation orders for nearly 4,000 people and led Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for Siskiyou County. Several injuries were reported, but no information on the nature of the injuries and the condition of the injured was available.

“Most of the Lincoln Heights community is gone,” Greene said Saturday, describing a scene of eerie calm as smoke billowed over the smoldering remains of the neighborhood.

The mayor had been at a community center the previous afternoon when someone ran inside and shouted that a fire had started across the street. By the time she reached the parking lot, the flames had jumped onto Railroad Avenue and were heading toward Lincoln Heights, throwing up huge clouds of black smoke, she said.

The blaze then headed into Lincoln Park, melting some playground equipment but sparing structures and trees, before bypassing green space and burning more homes in the Lake Shastina area, a- she declared. There are a number of homes and ranches between the two communities, and it’s unclear how they got by. Information was difficult to come by because the town had no electricity, internet or phone lines, Greene said.

Another fire, which broke out hours later in more remote and rugged woodland about 12 miles northwest, had burned 3,395 acres and was 5% contained by Saturday afternoon. About 21 people had been ordered to evacuate the Mountain fire, most of them in the community of Gazelle, officials said.

Both fires were fueled by high winds, high temperatures, low relative humidity and parched vegetation from ongoing drought, said Capt. Robert Foxworthy, public information officer at the Department of Forestry and Conservation. against the California wildfires. Scientists found it to be the driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years and concluded that climate change had intensified the severity of the mega-drought.

The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for Friday due to strong winds, which gusted to 35 mph, and very low humidity, which dropped to 4% that afternoon, Sven said. Nelaimischkies, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford. , Ore. Weed recorded temperatures of 98 degrees, he added.

“It all contributed to pretty explosive growth,” Foxworthy said.

Activity on the factory fire moderated overnight Saturday as winds died down and conditions cooled, allowing crews to begin putting a line around the fire, a- he declared. In contrast, the mountain fire continued to burn actively.

“The two fires have different concerns,” Foxworthy said. “The mill fire burns in a more populated area. Then the mountain fire is on much steeper and more rugged terrain.

Temperatures are expected to drop about 10 degrees on Saturday before warming up on Sunday and potentially meeting heat advisory criteria by Tuesday, Nelaimischkies said. Dry conditions are expected to persist, but winds are expected to remain much lighter through Sunday, he said.

The fires come amid a tough summer for rural Siskiyou County in northern California. The McKinney Fire began in the Klamath National Forest near the Oregon border in late July and quickly became the largest of the season so far, burning more than 60,000 acres, killing four people and destroying 185 buildings.

Although a cause has yet to be officially determined, multiple lawsuits filed on behalf of residents allege the fire was started by PacifiCorp electrical equipment.

Around the same time, thunderstorms sparked a series of small fires across the county, the largest, the Yeti Fire, scorching nearly 8,000 acres and triggering evacuation warnings in the Happy Camp area.

Parts of Siskiyou County were also damaged last year by the lightning-triggered Lava Fire, which burned along the slopes of Mount Shasta east of Weed.

The 2014 Boles fire, which a man eventually pleaded guilty to recklessly starting, destroyed more than 150 buildings in Weed, essentially burning down half the town, Greene said.

“We all have PTSD,” she said. “So when we hear the fire, we get the hell out.”


Los Angeles Times

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