Deadly Northern California fire destroys more than 1K homes
UPPER LAKE, Calif. (AP) — A massive wildfire in Northern California has torched more than 1,000 homes in and around the city of Redding, authorities said Wednesday as some evacuees were allowed to return home.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said another 440 buildings, including barns and warehouses, have also been destroyed by the fire, which is now the seventh most destructive in California history.
The huge Redding-area blaze, which started July 23, forced 38,000 people from their homes and killed six. It has scorched 180 square miles and is 35 percent contained.
New blazes continued to explode and threaten more homes in what has become an endless summer of flame in the Golden State.
North of San Francisco, a fire threatened homes in an old ranching and farming area near Covelo. About 60 homes were ordered evacuated as the blaze erupted late Tuesday and winds whipped flames through brush, grass, oak, pine and fir near the Mendocino National Forest, officials said.
The area was only about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of where twin fires in Mendocino and Lake counties have burned an area nearly three times the size of San Francisco, destroyed 10 homes and threatened 12,000 more.
The Lake County seat of Lakeport remained under evacuation orders and was a virtual ghost town, although people were allowed back home in several smaller communities as firefighters shored up containment lines. Containment grew overnight to 24 percent.
Jessyca Lytle fled a fast-moving wildfire in 2015 that spared her property but destroyed her mother's memorabilia-filled Lake County home.
Lytle found herself listening to scanner traffic Tuesday and fire-proofing her mother's new home as another wildfire advanced.
"Honestly, what I'm thinking right now is I just want this to end," Lytle said, adding that she was "exhausted in every way possible — physically, emotionally, all of that."
Paul Lew and his two boys, ages 13 and 16, evacuated Saturday from their Lakeport home.
"I told them to throw everything they care about in the back of the car," said Lew, 45. "I grabbed computers, cellphones, papers. I just started bagging all my paperwork up, clothes, my guitars."
Lew, who is divorced from Lytle, is camped out at the house in the nearby community of Cobb that she fled in 2015. He is watching over her chickens, sheep and other animals. With a laugh, he said repeated fire alerts have made him an emergency preparation expert.
"It's like three a year," he said. "It's kind of crazy."
To the east, another blaze Tuesday night raged through grassy cattle lands near Yuba City, covering more than 1 1/2 square miles (4 square kilometers) in a few hours.
The area is mainly a ranching area of barns and other buildings and no evacuations were ordered, said Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The new fires erupted without warning and spread with shocking speed through forest and brush that have literally become tinder.
"It just goes on and on," McLean said.
"We had this rain at the beginning of the year and all that did was promote the growing of grass and brush," McLean said. "It's a Catch-22. It's growing more product to catch on fire.
"We've never really been out of the drought," McLean added. "We need several years of significant rainfall ... to bring California back."
He also had a warning for people visiting rural and wilderness areas.
"Pay attention," he said. "Don't park the car on dry grass ... no campfires, no flame. It doesn't take anything to start a fire right now."
In Shasta County's Carr Fire, Redding police on Tuesday asked for help from the public locating four people who are still missing. A relative identified the latest known victim as Daniel Bush, 62.
Bush had returned to his mobile home in the community of Keswick last Tuesday after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery, but he was unable to drive and would have needed help to evacuate when the fire came through the neighborhood on Thursday, his sister, Kathi Gaston, told the Redding Record Searchlight.
Gaston said her brother had wanted to stay in his own home, but he had spotty cell service and, with the power out, he might not have gotten word of the fire.
Gaston said she could not get to her brother's house because, with the fire approaching, sheriff's deputies had blocked the roads and then she herself had to evacuate.
"If we'd been able to go in when we wanted to, he'd be alive right now," she said. "I'm very upset about it."
National Park Service officials said Tuesday that the scenic Yosemite Valley and other areas will be closed at least through Sunday due to heavy smoke from the so-called Ferguson Fire. The closure began July 25.
It was the longest closure at Yosemite since 1997, when floods closed the park for over two months.
Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco also contributed to this report.