Among 11 major wildfires burning Monday in Northern California, two in eastern Shasta and western Lassen counties posed the greatest concern for firefighters because of their threat to communities.
Burning within 8 miles of each other, the Bald and Eiler fires prompted the evacuation of several rural areas over the weekend, and an evacuation advisory remained in effect Monday for the town of Burney.
The Bald fire, sparked by lightning Wednesday, was reported 20 percent contained Monday, with 39,850 acres burned as of 8 p.m. Monday. The Eiler fire, which started Thursday evening 4 miles southeast of Burney, had burned 28,600 acres as of Monday and was 10 percent contained. The cause of the Eiler fire has not been determined.
Sgt. John Greene of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said deputies had gone door-to-door in the areas of Big Eddy Estates, Cassel, Hat Creek and Johnson Park advising residents to evacuate. Because of the large area affected, Greene said he had no figures on the number of homes that may have been evacuated.
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Evacuation centers were opened at Fall River High School in McArthur and Black Butte Elementary School in Shingletown.
Judi Mottin spent Sunday night at the Fall River Hotel after she was ordered to leave her home on Cassell-Fall River Road, which loops between the neighboring towns along the base of Bald Mountain. Four days after she was told to prepare to evacuate, she packed everything she could into her vehicles and a trailer.
“Clothes, my dogs and cats – I just took everything I could fit in,” she said.
She couldn’t see the Bald fire from her house. “And that’s why I left. I have no idea how close it is,” she said Monday.
Mottin, who works at the hotel as a cook, had no idea when she would be allowed to return home. The evacuation is “a hard closure,” she said. “Now they won’t let me go back until it’s lifted.”
Mottin was one of about 270 people who packed the Fall River High School gymnasium in McArthur on Sunday night for a report from fire officials from several agencies and sheriff’s officials from two counties. Most were fellow evacuees, said Greg Hawkins, superintendent of the Fall River Joint Unified School District.
Ross and Ginny Jones, Mottin’s neighbors in Big Eddy Estates, refused to leave their home of 16 years.
“We’ve been through a few fires,” Ross Jones said. “We feel comfortable and safe here.”
Their property is 15 miles from the Bald fire and 20 miles from the Eiler fire, he said.
Dead ash was falling on the area Monday through an overlay of thick smoke and gusting winds.
Although a red flag warning for critical fire weather conditions was in effect Monday, firefighting efforts throughout Northern California went fairly well, said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It was successful because of the weather,” she said. “We got a little bit of rain.”
Capt. Chris Bruno, a Cal Fire spokesman, said Monday that the cooler weather aided firefighters battling the Day fire, burning in Modoc County, just north of the Bald fire. “It’s 10 degrees cooler than it was yesterday,” he said, adding that crews had made good progress.
The Day fire started late Wednesday afternoon, sparked by lightning. As of Monday, it had destroyed five homes and one outbuilding. It was reported 60 percent contained at 13,047 acres Monday evening.
Brooke Bingaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said firefighters could be further aided by a storm system expected to bring cooler temperatures and more moisture to the Shasta and Lassen county areas Tuesday. A high of 82 degrees is forecast for Burney, and highs in the low 70s are expected at higher elevations, which also could receive up to an inch of rain.
Although the rain may dampen the fires, Bingaman said a heavy downpour could create problems, such as muddy roads, for firefighting equipment, and lightning could pose a safety hazard for firefighters.