LOS ANGELES – The raging Lava fire in Northern California grew to more than 17,000 acres by Wednesday morning, forcing thousands from their homes and offering a preview for the fire season ahead.
Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the scene Tuesday and was set to brief President Joe Biden about California’s critical fire dangers and needs. The state has been devastated by ever-worsening wildfire the last few years, with 2020 being the most destructive on record.
It’s still early in the season, which tends to peak in the summer and fall in California. But extreme heat created conditions for several fires to explode this week.
The lightning-sparked Lava fire, in a fairly remote part of Siskiyou County, forced the evacuation of at least 8,000 residents Monday afternoon as gusty red flag conditions fueled the flames.
The blaze, which started Friday, is 19% contained. Smoke from the fire was expected to drift as far north as Medford, Oregon, by Wednesday evening, according to the National Weather Service. More than 900 personnel are involved in battling the fire, according to officials with the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Fire crews made progress containing the northern and western edges of the fire Tuesday, but it continued to advance on the southeastern edge as winds swept in from the north, according to a Wednesday morning update from Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Most of the movement occurred on the slope in the timber stand on Mt. Shasta.
Dry conditions are expected to continue with south winds forecast through midmorning, switching northwest late in the afternoon, the update said.
Dangerously hot temperatures are expected at least through Thursday in central and eastern Siskiyou County and in Modoc, according to the weather service.
“Record-setting heat in Northern California, a lightning storm comes through, and you have the recipe for the perfect storm,” said Raj Singh, a public information officer for California Incident Management Team 14 of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Firefighters are concentrating on holding the north and west lines of the fire to protect the Lake Shastina, Mount Shasta Vista and Big Springs communities.
“We had a lot of resources on that end yesterday. That’s where the big threat was to the communities up there,” Singh said.
Crews are also attacking the fire on the southern edge, Singh said.
There have been no civilian injuries since the fire crew arrived on Monday, he said.
Firefighters are dealing with steep, rocky terrain, limited road access and limited water sources, according to Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Due to the unpredictable weather, containment projections aren’t possible, Singh said. A single ember and a strong breeze could reignite the entire blaze, he said.
“Nature’s going to test this line to make sure it holds,” he said.
A fire of this size so early in the summer is highly unusual, Singh said, and could augur a physically draining period ahead for firefighters and support staff. Last year’s fire season was grueling, he said.
“By the end of the season, people were just exhausted,” he said.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a fire official with the Shasta-Trinity National Forest apologized to residents during a town hall meeting Monday for crews having initially left the site of the fire Friday when the blaze was no longer perceived to be a threat.
Adrienne Freeman, a spokesperson for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, told The Times that after pouring thousands of gallons of water on the fire, officials with the agency had not been able to detect any more heat and had “no indication to continue suppression actions.”
But it rekindled shortly afterward, then exploded.
“It does happen,” she said. “It’s not terribly common.”
Deputies with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed a man they said opened fire on them in an evacuation zone of the Lava fire, authorities said.
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told the Sacramento Bee that officers tried to prevent the man from driving into the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision on Highway 97 north of Weed after it had been evacuated due to the fire Monday evening.
Evacuation orders were issued by the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office for Carrick Addition, Highway 97 from Weed to Deer Mountain Road, Lake Shastina, Rancho Hills, Juniper Valley and Mt. Shasta Vista. Highway 97 remains closed, according to Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Siskiyou County was also battling the Tennant fire, which began Monday and by Tuesday evening had grown to 6,000 acres and was 0% contained, according to Kimberly DeVall, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
By Tuesday evening, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office had issued evacuation orders for Bray, East and West Ball Mountain Road, Old State Highway and Juanita Lake. There was also an evacuation warning for the Macdoel area, from Sheep Mountain Road in the north to Red Rock Road in the east as well as homes within a mile to the west of Macdoel.
The 118-acre Beswick Fire in Siskiyou County is 70% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Blue fire, located in Blue Canyon, began Tuesday afternoon. It is spreading at a moderate rate and has reached 400 acres, according to an incident update from Sierra National Forest.
Defying initial optimistic projections, winds shifted Tuesday evening, accelerating the fire’s spread. The area has a large amount of dead trees caused by bark beetle infestation and years of drought, according to Sierra National Forest.
More than 100 personnel are involved and that force will double, according to Sierra National Forest. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was 10% contained.
All of Road 10S02 has been closed and evacuated, said Alex Olow, a forest spokesperson.
Evacuations were also ordered Wednesday afternoon for the Salt fire in the Lakehead area of Shasta County, north of Redding.
The fire was reported at 1:55 p.m. east of Interstate 5 near the Salt Creek exit, said Suzi Johnson, a spokesperson for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The blaze was initially reported at five acres but Johnson said officials believe it has grown since then.
About 2 p.m., the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuations for Zola Drive, Cordes Court and Solus Campground Road, and warned that residents of Gregory Creek Road should shelter in place or go to Gregory Creek Beach. A short while later, it ordered evacuations for Tom Head and Old Mill Road.
An evacuation center has been established at Central Valley High School.
The Willow fire in Los Padres National Forest ignited June 18. As of Tuesday morning, it was holding steady at 2,877 acres and 87% containment, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said.
The Shell fire, which began in Kern County on Sunday after a car caught fire on a roadside, is at 1,984 acres and 85% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Peak fire was also caused by a “single vehicle accident,” San Bernardino National Forest officials said on Twitter. The fire quickly spread to vegetation and reached about 35 acres Monday before its progress was stopped about 2 p.m., forest officials said.
On Tuesday morning, firefighters continued to work on mop-up and line construction operations. The fire was 50% contained.