Northern California fires force thousands to flee

A plume of smoke rises at the Chips Fire inside the Plumas National Forest in Northern California. This fire has burned 70 square miles and threatens about 900 homes. Enlarge photo

InciWeb/Associated Press

A plume of smoke rises at the Chips Fire inside the Plumas National Forest in Northern California. This fire has burned 70 square miles and threatens about 900 homes.

SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands of people have been told to leave their homes as a wildfire burning Sunday in thick forest threatened rural communities in far Northern California.

The fire that sparked around 11:30 a.m. Saturday has destroyed four homes and consumed nearly 19 square miles near the towns of Manton, Shingleton and Viola, fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. About 3,500 homes spread out across a rural area along the border of Tehama and Shasta counties are threatened as the fire continues to expand, he said.

“A good majority are immediately threatened, and a good number are in the path of the fire,” Berlant said Sunday. “We will be battling it hard today to protect as many of those homes as possible.”

The fire’s cause has not been determined, but officials said it started after a series of lightning strikes.

No part of the blaze was contained Sunday evening and fire activity had picked up, Berlant said.

John Cluff, 42, told the Redding Record Searchlight that he was forced to flee his home before the evacuations were issued. He went back for his dog about 3:30 p.m.

“The fire basically chased me out of the property,” he said. “All I could see was black smoke and flames.”

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Department has declared a State of Emergency for the county, with evacuations expected to continue through Sunday. The agency also was closing some local roads.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center in Redding, about 35 miles to the west of the blaze.

The fire, burning in a rugged area of thick forests about 170 miles north of Sacramento, is one of handful of new fires in Northern California.

Another wildfire that started Saturday has consumed about 1.5 square miles east of the Mendocino County community of Covelo. That blaze, which was sparked by lightning, was burning in a remote area of thick timber and rugged terrain, making it difficult for fire crews to access. A third new fire has scorched about half a square mile in a remote area of Shasta County.

Meanwhile, a massive wildfire that has been burning in the Plumas National Forest since July 29 grew larger late Saturday and early Sunday as strong winds pushed the flames past fire lines on the fire’s northeast edge.

“Winds picked up, and it got very dry in the afternoon,” fire spokesman Brad Pitassi said. “It made a good push in that area”

The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed nearly 70 square miles and continued to threaten about 900 homes. The fire is 38 percent contained, with full containment expected Aug. 31.

Also in California, a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park was 51 percent contained after consuming more than 43 square miles. Officials expected firefighters would have the blaze contained by Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the West, fires also continued to rage:

In Utah, evacuation orders were lifted east of Park City as firefighters made progress on a wildfire near Jordanelle State Park. But crews were dispatched to another Wasatch County blaze Sunday afternoon where 60-foot flames were reported in Daniels Canyon.

County fire spokeswoman Janet Carson said the Whiskey Springs Fire was reported in the canyon near Utah Route 40 just before 1 p.m. She said an air attack might be the only effective way to fight the human-caused fire because of the steep terrain.

The Fox Bay Fire that started Saturday near Jordanelle Reservoir has burned at least 550 acres but was estimated at 40 percent contained Sunday. Residents returned to their homes in the Fox Bay, Stillwater and Shores areas, and state park visitors were allowed to retrieve their property.

In Idaho, about 1,100 firefighters worked to protect some 350 homes in the Featherville area under a mandatory evacuation as the Trinity Ridge Fire continued a slow approach toward the community.

“The fire will make it to Featherville,” fire spokeswoman Mallory Eils said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

She said when that happens is hard to predict because of varying weather conditions. The area was under a red-flag warning on Sunday with the possibility of thunderstorms, and she said fire managers were preparing to light fires ahead of the main fire to protect the town but were waiting for the right conditions that would draw the backfire toward the main fire.