Trinity County Supervisor Judy Morris’ voice was raspy Monday, like a smoker’s.
She doesn’t smoke.
She was hoarse from days of breathing smoky air from the Helena Fire. The 8,940-acre fire erupted Wednesday west of Weaverville in isolated, forested northwestern California.
“The air is just awful. Just awful,” Morris said.
The Helena Fire – just one of dozens of major wildfires burning across California from Los Angeles to the Oregon border – has torched 72 homes near Junction City and forced the long-term closure of Highway 299, Trinity County’s primary lifeline, connecting the county to the Central Valley and the north coast.
Smoke from Helena Fire was contributing to the unhealthy haze blanketing Sacramento on Monday, as smoke from fires burning in Oregon and Northern California billowed into the Sacramento Valley. The smoky haze got thicker and more unhealthy the further north one traveled Monday along Interstate 5 to the Oregon border.
It was so smoky in the town of Mount Shasta the 14,180-foot tall volcanic peak that hovers over the town was barely visible.
In Trinity County, the omnipresent haze is making a troubling situation worse for the county’s 14,000 residents, Morris said.
“It’s really daunting, this air quality,” she said.
As of Monday afternoon, the fire was 14 percent contained. Highway crews said Monday they were going to intermittently open Highway 299 up to traffic for short periods.
Across California, more than 70 active wildfires were burning Monday. The California National Guard announced it was calling up nearly 350 members to help fight them. Soldiers will receive about three days of training and then be assigned to fire lines to assist Cal Fire and other agencies, said Capt. Will Martin, a California National Guard spokesman.
“Like anyone else, they need support,” Martin said of firefighting agencies.
Guard members typically begin to help out at this point late in the fire season, Martin added, with soldiers on duty for about a month.
There was some positive news Monday for a couple of fires, the Ponderosa Fire in Butte County and the La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles County.
Fire officials lifted all evacuation orders and warnings at Ponderosa Fire, as well as opening roads that had been closed after the fire began Aug. 29.
Cal Fire reported Monday evening that the fire, which has burned 4,016 acres, was 72 percent contained. The blaze, which threatened 1,300 structures, destroyed 32 homes and 22 outbuildings, according to Cal Fire.
Crews also reported progress on the 7,003-acre La Tuna Fire, which destroyed four homes and threatened hillside neighborhoods. On Monday, the fire was 30 percent contained, but firefighters reported making good progress on the fire Monday afternoon.
Sudden rainstorms prompted firefighters to lift evacuations for the 1,400 people in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale who had fled from their homes.
Further north outside of Yosemite National Park, gusts from the Sunday storms pushed the Railroad Fire to 9,790 acres on Monday and prompted mandatory evacuations north of the town of Oakhurst.
The fire, which was 23 percent contained, also burned through the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias.
So far, the ancient trees haven’t been damaged, because the fire was low intensity and limited to the understory, said Cheryl Chipman, a spokeswoman for South Central Sierra Interagency Management Team.
“From what I’ve heard, the trees are in pretty good shape,” she said.
Large, ancient trees may be fire resistant, but buildings in the park are much less so.
Chipman said crews covered historic cabins in the grove with a foil-like wrapping in the hopes it would prevent them from catching fire.