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Wildfires Barrel Toward Northern California Lake Towns

Stretched to the limit, firefighters are battling 17 major wildfires burning across the Golden State

What to Know

  • The destructive Carr Fire burning near Redding has claimed the lives of at least six people, including two firefighters.
  • Two wildfires near the border of Mendocino and Lake counties flared up late Sunday, prompting new evacuation orders.
  • The Steele Fire in Napa County is close to full containment but only after destroying eight homes and torching 135 acres.


Cal Fire on Monday afternoon issued the following mandatory evacuation orders: 

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has issued a Mandatory Evacuation for the Kelseyville and Finley areas. The Mandatory Evacuation area is north of the Sonoma-Lake-Mendocino County Line, east of Highland Springs Road, south of Clear Lake, and west of Bottle Rock Road extending north to Clear Lake State Park including the communities of Kelseyville and Finley.


The number of people ordered to flee from twin Northern California wildfires in Mendocino and Lake counties has swelled to 15,000, authorities said Monday as flames rolled toward several small towns in a rural area of lakes, forests and mountains.

Elsewhere in the same region, firefighters were hopeful that the state's largest and deadliest blaze of the year was slowing down after days of explosive growth.

A fire official said Monday the Carr Fire is now the ninth most destructive in the state's history.

State fire spokesman Scott McLean said the blaze rampaging in the area of Redding has destroyed 818 homes and 311 outbuildings. Another 165 homes have been damaged by the fire, which also killed two firefighters and four civilians.

More than 27,000 people remain evacuated because of the blaze, which has burned for more than a week. However, another 10,000 were allowed to return home Monday as fire crews managed to reinforce some containment lines.

The huge blaze is now 23 percent surrounded.

The twin fires in Mendocino and Lake counties flared up late Sunday, forcing the new evacuations from the 4,700-resident town of Lakeport and other communities near Clear Lake, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The blazes — the River Fire and Ranch Fire — have destroyed six homes and threaten 10,000 others. So far, the flames have blackened 87 square miles, with minimal containment.

Those fires were among 17 burning across the state, where fire crews were stretched to the limit.

At midday Monday, Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Corey Paulich put the number of people under evacuation orders at 14,000, up from a previous estimate of 10,000. Another 1,000 people have been displaced in neighboring Mendocino County.

Paulich said residents have been heeding evacuation orders because they have seen the destruction caused by past wildfires, which have destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least four people since 2015.

To the north, near Redding, California, where the unpredictable Carr Fire killed six people, a man whose wife and two great-grandchildren were among the dead said he did not receive any warning to evacuate. The fatalities also included two firefighters.

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Crews handling the blaze near Redding struck a hopeful tone for the first time in days as the massive fire slowed after days of rapid expansion. 

"We're feeling a lot more optimistic today as we're starting to gain some ground rather than being in a defensive mode on this fire all the time," said Bret Gouvea, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's incident commander on the blaze around Redding, a city about 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

Authorities were also investigating at least 18 missing persons reports, though many of them may simply be people who have not checked in with friends or family, police said.

The Carr Fire that threatened Redding — a city of about 92,000 people — was ignited by a vehicle a week ago about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of the city. On Thursday, it swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta and nearby Keswick, fueled by gusty winds and dry vegetation. It then jumped the Sacramento River and took out subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.

Redding Police Chief Roger Moore kept up a round-the-clock work schedule despite learning that his home was one of those destroyed. He was finally able to shave on Saturday when his wife brought him a razor, he said.

Moore was helping evacuate people from his River Ridge neighborhood in western Redding when the flames became unbearable.

"I saw everything around it ignite, and I go, 'It's gone,'" Moore said.

At least one person was arrested on suspicion of stealing from evacuated homes, and authorities were keeping watch for other potential looters, said Deputy Travis Ridenour, whose home also burned.

"Lost our house like so many others," Ridenour wrote on Facebook. "Still out watching over the ones still standing. No looting on my watch."

After days of fortifying the areas around Redding, fire crews were increasingly confident that the city would escape further damage. The fire had not grown inside the city limits since Saturday, Gouvea said.

Some of the 38,000 people forced to evacuate said they were frustrated because they didn't know whether their homes were still standing. Some evacuated neighborhoods were reopened Monday but many remained closed as firefighters mopped up.

Fed up, Tim Bollman hiked 4 miles (6 kilometers) Sunday to check on the Redding home he built for his wife and two sons 13 years ago. He found rubble.

"There's not even anything to pick up," he said. "It's completely gone."

Keswick, a mountain town of about 450 people, was reduced to an ashy moonscape of blackened trees and smoldering ruins.

Meanwhile, officials said a second firefighter died fighting a huge blaze to the south near Yosemite National Park. Brian Hughes, 33, was struck by a tree while removing brush and other fuel near the so-called Ferguson Fire's front lines, officials said.

Originally from Hawaii, Hughes had been with California's Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots for four years and reached the rank of captain. Earlier this month, firefighter Braden Varney was killed when the bulldozer he was operating overturned while he was fighting the flames near the national park.

Yosemite Valley, the heart of tourism in the park, will remain closed until Aug. 3.

West in Napa County, the Steele Fire near Lake Berryessa is 75 percent contained as of Monday morning, according to Cal Fire. The blaze has burned 135 acres and wiped out eight homes.

The Cranston Fire continues to burn in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs, but officials lifted evacuation orders for several communities after reporting significant progress by firefighters.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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