State of emergency issued in Butte County as Wall fire forces thousands to evacuate

Wall Fire forces residents to evacuation centers

The growing Wall Fire in Butte County, for which a state of emergency was issued Sunday, July 9, 2017, forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
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The growing Wall Fire in Butte County, for which a state of emergency was issued Sunday, July 9, 2017, forced thousands to evacuate their homes.

Sitting in the shade outside an evacuation center on Sunday, Peggie Adamson recounted watching trees explode as the Wall fire crept toward her home at the Oaks Senior Community in Oroville.

As the fire drew near, CalFire ordered Adamson and her neighbors to evacuate to a shelter at the Church of the Nazarene around 11 p.m. Saturday night.

“We’ve been through enough here in Oroville. When they give out a warning to evacuate, we evacuate,” Adamson, 66, said Sunday morning. “It had to have been a couple of miles away, but we could still see it clear as day ... I could hear propane tanks exploding, it sounded like bombs going off.”

The Wall fire spread Sunday evening to about 5,600 acres, prompting evacuation orders for more than 4,000 and evacuation warnings for an additional 7,400 people, according to Cal Fire Butte County. Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Butte County on Sunday.

The fire, which is burning southeast of Oroville near the community of Bangor, began Friday afternoon and had scorched roughly 2,000 acres by Saturday.

Containment was at 25 percent Sunday evening with roughly 1,600 personnel battling the fire, Cal Fire said. By 9 p.m. Sunday, Cal Fire downgraded the evacuation order in the area west of Miners Ranch Road between Highway 162 and Oro Bangor Highway to an evacuation warning. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

The blaze is one of 14 wildfires across California that approximately 5,000 firefighters battled Sunday. The Wall fire destroyed 17 structures, but that number is expected to rise, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Mary Ann Aldrich. About 5,400 homes were threatened Sunday, according to a Cal Fire incident update report.

Four firefighters have been injured while fighting the Wall fire, according to Cal Fire. There have been no civilian injuries reported, Aldrich said.

She said there is “no indication” that the flames are continuing to spread, but the fire still burned actively. It is burning primarily to the northwest and southwest.

On Sunday, Adamson and two of her neighbors drank water outside the shelter, which was manned by the same Red Cross chapter that mobilized when the emergency spillway of Lake Oroville’s dam threatened to give way in February.

Adamson and her fellow seniors live above the floodplain so they avoided evacuation during the dam crisis, but 188,000 residents living below the dam fled the potential disaster.

Red Cross volunteer Virginia Englund said some of the residents who were evacuated in February are relying on the shelter again, but Saturday night’s evacuees were mostly from higher ground.

“Everyone below the dam had to evacuate (during the crisis), and everyone above the dam has been evacuated for the fire, so seems like everybody in Oroville has been evacuated this year,” quipped Oroville resident Mike Shields, who had to evacuate his 91-year-old father Saturday night.

About 150 people had come through the shelter as of late afternoon Sunday. Pets aren’t allowed inside, so people were hunkered down in the parking lot with their animals. Korie and Austin Rutenschroer sat in a camper next to their grandparent’s RV with their dog, Katie. The family cat had to be taken to an animal shelter.

“A few years ago we had another fire that started in the same area that this fire’s at – this one is way worse than the other one,” Korie Rutenschroer, 19, said. “A lot more people being threatened, a lot more people losing homes and stuff like that, so it’s pretty scary.”

In addition to the evacuation orders and warnings, several roads were closed in the area, including Forbestown Road at Black Bart Road and (Upper) Swedes Flat Road at Robinson Mill Road. Dunstone Drive is closed at Foothill Boulevard, Grubbs Road and Avocado Road. Oro Bangor Highway at Avocado Road and Miners Ranch roads are also blocked. Highway 162 is closed at Miners Ranch Road, according to Caltrans.

Also in Northern California, firefighters are working to contain the Winters fire in Yolo County. It burned 2,269 acres and is 85 percent contained as of Sunday evening. Since it broke out Thursday afternoon near Highway 128 and Pleasant View Road southwest of Winters, three firefighters have suffered minor heat-related injuries. Evacuation orders in the area have been lifted.

An all-agency Alamo Fire briefing was held at the fire command post near Santa Maria on Sunday morning, July 9, 2017, to plan strategy for the day. Here's an update from Cal Fire PIO Chris Elms.

The largest of the fires as of Sunday morning was the Alamo fire in San Luis Obispo County. The fire has grown to cover almost 24,000 acres, up from more than 19,000 acres Saturday afternoon.

The Alamo fire started Thursday off of Highway 166 near Twitchell Reservoir, and was at 15 percent containment evacuees as of Sunday evening. Evacuations warnings were issued by Cal Fire for the Tepusquet Canyon area.

A smaller fire of about 50 acres in Yuba County was at 95 percent containment Sunday evening. The West fire was east of Olivehurst, located off Camp Far West Road and Wichita Way. In El Dorado County, a 100-acre fire off of Axel and Barrister courts near Rescue was 60 percent contained as of Sunday evening.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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