Fires

Army of firefighters battling large blazes in Butte and Yolo counties

Cal Fire dumps fire retardant on Wall Fire in Butte County

The 2,000-acre Wall Fire in Butte County was 2 percent contained with more than 300 people evacuated as of Saturday afternoon.
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The 2,000-acre Wall Fire in Butte County was 2 percent contained with more than 300 people evacuated as of Saturday afternoon.

A series of 15 large wildfires laid siege to portions of California on Saturday as more than 3,000 firefighters battled the flames and triple-digit heat in what officials fear is a sign of a difficult post-drought fire season ahead.

The Wall fire southeast of Oroville, near the community of Bangor, began Friday afternoon. By Saturday afternoon it had destroyed 10 homes and scorched 2,000 acres. The blaze injured four people and forced evacuations and road closures throughout the area.

“The fire continues to burn actively,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported on its incident page. “The fire is burning primarily to the northeast and southeast.”

“Hot, dry weather is expected to continue in the fire area,” Cal Fire said.

Nearly 1,000 personnel were battling the blaze with 61 engines and seven helicopters, as well as air tankers. Red Cross disaster teams opened a shelter for evacuees at the Oroville Church of the Nazarene.

“Volunteers are on hand to provide lodging, meals, water, hygiene items and comfort for families affected by the evacuations,” the American Red Cross Gold Country Region reported on its Twitter account.

Butte County residents already have been rattled this year by the evacuation in February of 188,000 residents because of fears the Oroville Dam might fail, and authorities warned people Saturday to heed official warnings and not listen to rumors.

“Rumor control: law enforcement agencies are not giving out ‘travel passes’ to allow access to closed roads,” the Butte County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Saturday afternoon.

The Wall fire was only 5 percent contained late Saturday, and a second, smaller fire erupted Saturday afternoon in Yuba County 6 miles east of Olivehurst.

The West fire, burning south of Beale Air Force Base, erupted and burned from seven to nine acres before firefighters got it under control.

Two people were briefly evacuated as flames marched to within 50 yards of their home, Cal Fire spokeswoman Mary Eldridge said, and air units used a large pond near the home to dump water on the flames and save the house.

A short time after that fire was reported, another 20-acre blaze broke out near Rescue in El Dorado County. The Axel fire was reported burning near Axel Court and Barrister Court.

Firefighters reported making significant progress on another major fire burning in Northern California. The Winters fire in Yolo County, which erupted Thursday morning and quickly grew to 2,269 acres, was at 75 percent containment, and evacuation orders had been lifted.

“Firefighters are making good progress, however, erratic winds and steep terrain are challenging suppression efforts,” Cal Fire reported. More than 500 personnel and four helicopters from regional fire departments were working to contain that blaze, which began near Highway 128 and Pleasant View Road southwest of Winters.

The largest of the blazes as of Saturday was the Alamo fire in San Luis Obispo County, which exploded from 6,000 acres Saturday morning to more than 19,000 acres by late afternoon.

That fire began Thursday near the Twitchell Reservoir off Highway 166, and evacuees were being told to go to the Miami Center in Santa Maria. The fire was at 10 percent containment late Saturday.

With the end of the state’s five-year drought, fire officials have been bracing for a fresh onslaught of fires fed by new grass growth from winter rains. They have warned that damage done to millions of trees by the drought and bark beetle infestation also poses a threat.

They also noted that firefighters are being hampered once again by unauthorized drone flights above fire scenes, which force authorities to ground helicopters and tankers to avoid striking the remote-controlled devices.

So far this year, 17 drone incursions have shut down aerial firefighting operations nationwide, including three in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Such incursions are increasing as drone prices drop and more hobbyists purchase them to shoot video. Last year there were 41 such incursions, compared to 25 in 2015 and 16 in 2014, the fire agency said.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

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