North Bay

‘Devastating Fire:’ Evacuations in Place After Fast-Moving Lake County Fire Burns 40,000 Acres, Destroys Structures

Four fighterfighters suffered third-degree burn injuries

An explosive wildfire that started Saturday afternoon in Lake County and spread to Napa County later in the day has destroyed structures, burned 40,000 acres in 12 hours and forced hundreds to flee from their homes, according to Cal Fire.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, helping free up funding and resources in the firefight. More than 3,850 firefighters are fighting the blaze, and more are expected to join the firefight. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire — which residents and firefighters are calling the Valley Fire — sent four firefighters to the hospital with second-degree burns. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Evacuations are in effect for residents in areas of Lake and Napa counties. A mandatory evacuation has been called for the entire Pope Valley, according to Cal Fire spokeperson David Shew. Shew said that a infrared flight that ended at 1:30 a.m. shows that the fire has consumed 40,000 acres. Shew, who is currently in Middletown, told NBC News that the Valley Fire is one of the worst he's seen in terms of devastation in the 28 years he has been with Cal Fire.

The fire erupted in Lake County — about 100 miles north of San Francisco — around 1:20 p.m. off High Valley Road and Bottle Rock Road in Cobb and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. An unconfirmed number of structures were destroyed. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were evacuated. Fire officials reported at 7:35 p.m. that the fire had burned 10,000 acres. They increased the number to 25,000 acres at 10:40 p.m.[[320468252, C]]

"Our hearts are breaking right now," Lake County OES spokeswoman Jill Ruzicka said. She said some people in the emergency operations center had to leave to take care of loved ones.

An evacuation center is open at the Napa County Fairground in Calistoga. A center at the Kelseyville Presbyterian Church cannot accept any more people, Lake County officials tweeted at 10:29 p.m.

Hundreds of firefighters are working throughout the night protecting homes, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant. Berlant tweeted that the firefighters who suffered burns are currently in stable condition at UC Davis Medical Center.

A light rain started falling in the area early Sunday morning, but according to social media reports, it wasn't doing much to help douse the fire. Lake County is close to where the Rocky Fire and Wragg Fire burned in the past months. The two fires burned almost 80,000 acres.

Residents took to social media Saturday night to let family, friends and the public know they were safe. Photos on Twitter and Instagram showed an inferno burning down houses, trees, sigboards and other structures.

Nicole Young live-tweeted the evacuation at Middletown. "Looking for a place for 3 horses and room to sleep in the car towards the north end of lake county. Thanks so much stay safe #ValleyFire," she tweeted at 9:30 p.m. An hour later she posted an update: "Thank you to everyone who reached out and everyone who offered, we found a place for the night. God bless and stay safe. #ValleyFire."

At 1:45 a.m. Young tweeted it was raining: "It's raining in Clearlake. Thank God. (Though I can't help but feel bad for my parents who had to sleep out in the open due to #ValleyFire)."

A Facebook group set up for those affected by the Valley Fire had 228 members as of 4 a.m. Sunday. Messages poured in about emergency housing, food, animal and child care and missing people.

"We had to evacuate our property at Rim Rock behind Hidden Valley because fire reached it," wrote Greg Candelario. "We have 70 Alpacas, three horses (1 white, 2 brown Arabian horses) and one male white St Bernard that ran off ,,, will respond by name Stinky.' We tried to get the other animals but were not able to to and let the animals out. Please call/text (703)-350-1707 if you see these animals." Candelario plans to search for his animals in the morning.

To the east, firefighters battled a blaze about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that exploded to more than 101 square miles in four days, turning the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white.

Crews increased containment to 15 percent despite a thick layer of smoke that kept air tankers and helicopters from flying Saturday. The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, destroyed 86 homes, 51 outbuildings and was threatening about 6,400 more.

Meanwhile, new evacuation orders were issued Saturday for the largest wildfire in the state, threatening to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 201 square miles, the U.S. Forest Service said.

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Raji Ramanathan, The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report. 

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