Tehama County fire explodes to 5,000 acres, evacuations ordered, air attack underway

A 5,000-acre wildfire erupted west of the Tehama County community of Red Bluff Thursday afternoon, and it chewed its way north through heavy brush, prompting evacuations of rural homes and ranches as it sent up a massive plume of smoke visible for miles.

Fire crews have ordered mandatory evacuations for the Red Bank Oaks subdivision and houses on the stretch from Pettyjohn Road in Red Bluff to the U.S. Forest Service boundary.

“There was a heck of a lot of smoke up there, it’s burning very quickly,” Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean told The Bee in an evening update. “We’re hoping that winds will die down tonight and cooler weather will come in tomorrow, but the fire will certainly continue to spread overnight.”

According to McLean, no injuries or damaged structures had been reported as of 8 p.m. Thursday, and the fire had spread to an area of low population density. However, containment remained at zero percent, and McLean said several seasonal cabins were in the fire’s trajectory and may be threatened later in the night.

The Red Bank Fire ignited around noon Thursday, Cal Fire said. In three hours, the fire grew over 4,000 acres, mainly burning brush and dry grass.

At 6 p.m., firefighters were preparing to make a “heavy stand” to prevent the fire jumping Highway 36, the main east-west road through the area, which serves as the border with Shasta County, said Cal Fire spokesman Dave Doughty.

Due to its remote location, firefighters were having a tough time reaching the Red Bank Fire, which ignited in heavy brush and oak woodlands earlier in the afternoon in an area off Hammer Loop Road and Petty John Road about 25 miles west of Red Bluff.

Doughty said the fire was being pushed north by 15 mph winds.

The Tehama County Sheriff’s Department said dispatchers were sending automated telephone alerts to the rural properties under evacuation. Deputies urged those living in the path of the fire to prepare to do the same.

“Start gathering any livestock, medications or personal items that you may need,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post. Air tankers and helicopters were having a tough time attacking the blaze because of the thick smoke, according to Cal Fire dispatch traffic.

Frank Dawley at Big Bluff Ranch said the fire Thursday evening was burning about three miles north of his ranch, and the wind appeared to be pushing it away, but he said he’s watching the smoke carefully in case he needs to get out.

“There is a lot of smoke, and the wind is supposed to abate, so we are not concerned right now, but we certainly are paying attention,” he said.

Dawley said his main concern at the moment is how much of the grassland that serves as cattle feed will be burned off. The area’s ranches are the winter home for cattle from Oregon and from the Sierra.

The fire was sending up a massive plume of smoke that could be seen from neighboring counties.

Cal Fire issued no immediate cause of the fire, but the National Weather Service reported Thursday that thousands of lightning strikes hit the region overnight.

It was the second required evacuation of the week due to wildfire in Northern California. Residents near the town of Cool in El Dorado County were forced to flee their homes on Tuesday due to a small wildfire that burned several out buildings and injured two firefighters.

That fire was 90 percent contained as of 6:40 p.m. Thursday.