By ADAM BEAM and OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
WEED, Calif. (AP) — A fast-moving wildfire in rural Northern California injured several people Friday, destroyed multiple homes and forced thousands of residents to flee, jamming roadways at the start of a sweltering Labor Day weekend.
The blaze dubbed the Mill Fire started on or near the property of Roseburg Forest Products, a plant that manufactures wood veneers. It quickly burned through homes, pushed by 35-mph (56-kph) winds, and by evening had engulfed 4 square miles (10.3 square kilometers) of ground.
Annie Peterson said she was sitting on the porch of her home near the Roseburg facility when “all of a sudden we heard a big boom and all that smoke was just rolling over toward us.”
Very quickly her home and about a dozen others were on fire. She said members of her church helped evacuate her and her son, who is immobile. She said the scene of smoke and flames looked like “the world was coming to an end.”
Many places in the area were also without power. About 9,000 customers, many of them in Weed, were hit with electrical outages shortly before 1 p.m., according to electric power company PacifiCorp, which said they were due to the wildfire.
Suzi Brady, a Cal Fire spokeswoman, said several people were injured.
Allison Hendrickson, spokeswoman for Dignity Health North State hospitals, said two people were brought 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 community of Gazelle had burned 600 acres (243 hectares) acres and prompted some evacuations.
Gov. 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 suppress the fire.”
California is in the grip of a prolonged drought and now a brutal heat wave that is taxing the power grid as people try to stay cool. Residents have been asked for three consecutive days to conserve power during late afternoon and evening hours when energy consumption is highest.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the last five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in state history.
Southern California saw two large fires break out earlier in the week. The last evacuation orders for those were being lifted around the time the Mill Fire started midday Friday. Flames spread fast and about 7,500 people were under evacuation orders that covered the small city of Weed and surrounding areas, which are about 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
Dr. Deborah Higer, medical director at the Shasta View Nursing Center, said all 23 patients at the facility were evacuated, with 20 going to local hospitals and three staying at her own home, where hospital beds were set up.
Olga Hood heard about the fire on her scanner and stepped onto to the front porch of her Weed home to see smoke blowing over the next hill.
With the notorious gusts that tear through the town at the base of Mount Shasta, she didn’t wait for an evacuation order. She packed up her documents, medication and little else, said her granddaughter, Cynthia Jones.
“With the wind in Weed everything like that moves quickly. It’s bad,” Jones said by phone from her home in Medford, Oregon. “It’s not uncommon to have 50 to 60 mph gusts on a normal day. I got blown into a creek as a kid.”
Hood’s home of nearly three decades was spared from a blaze last year and from the devastating Boles Fire that tore through town eight years ago, destroying more than 160 buildings, mostly homes.
Hood wept as she discussed the fire from a relative’s house in the hamlet of Granada, Jones said. She wasn’t able to gather photos that had been important to her late husband.
Willo Balfrey, 82, an artist from Lake Shastina, said she was painting Friday afternoon when her grandson, who is a member of the California Highway Patrol, called to warn her of the fast-spreading flames.
“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,” Balfrey said.
She grabbed a suitcase full of important documents, as well as water and her computer, iPhone and chargers, and headed out the door.
“I’ve reached the philosophy that if I have all my paperwork, what’s in the house is not that important,” she said.
She stopped to get her neighbor and they drove to a church parking lot in Montague, where about 40 other vehicles were also parked.
Rebecca Taylor, communications director for Roseburg Forest Products based in Springfield, Oregon, said it is unclear if the fire started near or on company property. A large empty building at the edge of company property burned she said. All employees were evacuated, and none have reported injuries, she said.
The plant employs 145 people, although not all were on shift at the time, Taylor said.
“We’re just devastated to see this fire affecting the community in this way,” she said.
In Southern California, firefighters were making progress Friday against two big wildfires.
Containment of the Route Fire along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles increased to 56% and it remained at just over 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 hospitals for treatment of heat illnesses. All were released.
In eastern San Diego County, the Border 32 Fire remained at just under 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and containment increased to 65%. More than 1,500 people had to evacuate the area near the U.S.-Mexico border when the fire erupted Wednesday. All evacuations were lifted by Friday afternoon.
Two people were hospitalized with burns. Three homes and seven other buildings were destroyed.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco, where Associated Press reporter Janie Har contributed. AP reporters Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley in Los Angeles also contributed.
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Author: Associated Press