Authorities started letting residents return Thursday to areas that had been evacuated due to the Clover fire, a blaze that started Monday near Happy Valley in Shasta County and grew quickly because of dry and windy conditions.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko announced Thursday that he had declared a local emergency because of the wildfire.
As of Thursday night, authorities reported the wildfire had burned 8,073 acres. It had destroyed 68 residences and 128 outbuildings, as well as damaged five residences and 10 outbuildings. Fighting the blaze were 1,183 fire personnel, 100 fire engines and 26 fire crews. The fire was 75 percent contained, with full containment expected Sunday.
There was also at least one confirmed fatality within the burned area of the Clover fire which ignited Monday 10 miles southwest of Redding.
Officers found a mans burnt remains Wednesday evening at Coal Pit Road while they were conducting a welfare check, according to a Shasta County Sheriffs Office statement. The Shasta County Coroners Office later identified the man as Brian Stanley Henry, 56.
The Coroners Office reported Thursday afternoon that an autopsy of the man had not yet been conducted.
Mandatory evacuation orders for residents of areas affected by the Clover fire are still in place, according to Nick Schuler, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Early Thursday, fire officials began a multi-phase plan to return some evacuees to their homes, he said.
One of our top priorities right now is the repopulation of areas that are deemed safe, Schuler said.
According to a Cal Fire release, an area could be deemed safe once authorities had removed debris, repaired guardrails and made sure all trees especially along roads are safe. Pacific Gas and Electric Company workers also have to replace power poles and inspect each residence to ensure downed power lines do not present an issue.
About 10 a.m. Thursday, a road closure at Cloverdale Road and Clear Creek Road was lifted for residents, allowing access to their houses on Cloverdale, Schuler said.
Six hours later, some of the remaining road closures were either shifted or removed, he said. Cal Fire officials say all road closures should be removed by Saturday night.
Happy Valley Elementary Unified School District officials on Monday evacuated students at its campus for kindergarten through fourth grade, said Janet Tufts, district superintendent. The students were bused to the districts campus for fifth- through eighth-graders approximately 5 miles away.
The fire was unpredictable, Tufts said. It was burning rapidly, the winds were strong, and the smoke was a black wall heading toward us. I knew the access roads for parents to pick kids up was limited, so I dispatched our buses over and moved our safety plan into action.
Tufts said the safety plan went smoothly: the displaced students were taken to the elementary schools gymnasium and sat in place by grade level while parents quickly checked them out.
After canceling school Tuesday, district officials resumed classes Wednesday.
According to Tufts, the district did so to lower attendance: Roughly 40 students did not show up for classes Wednesday.
The district comprises three campuses and serves about 500 students. Tufts said the families of at least five district students have lost their homes in the blaze.
We are a close-knit community, Tufts said. We want to make sure that we are supporting our families that are in need.
According to Tufts, the school set up the Happy Valley Childrens Relief Fund at the Redding Bank of Commerce to help raise funds for the families of district students who have been affected.
The district also gave gift cards to these families to care for their immediate needs, such as clothing, and provided psychological help and counseling for students.
Community members have mobilized for fire victims in other ways.
Sherry Redmond said a group she founded three years ago called The Lunch Bunch, which normally delivers food, hygiene products and books to Redding homeless people, has begun accepting donations for victims at the clothing store Fusion Pit in the city of Anderson.
If you think about it, now, theyre homeless, and theyre in need, Redmond said. So why not help them? Theres no reason not to help them.
Jason Clapp of the National Weather Service said weather should be favorable to the crews battling the fire.
Its helping, Clapp said.
He said wind is no longer pushing the fire, and he forecast cooling temperatures into the weekend. This means higher humidity, which makes it harder for the fire to burn.
The spread of the fire has been stopped, Schuler said. And as the weather cools, it opens up moments of opportunity.
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