Fueled by hot winds and unrelenting heat, Northern California fire crews battled into the night Saturday on an explosive wildfire in western Yolo County while struggling to control the 13,000-plus acre Pawnee Fire in Lake County, which had broken its containment during the afternoon.
The County Fire near Guinda, 10 miles north of the Cache Creek Casino and Resort, had quickly grown to 8,000 acres with no containment as of 9 p.m., according to Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. Two hours earlier, the fire had encompassed 4,000 acres, and it had been 1,000 acres around 5 p.m. before jumping a road.
Cal Fire couldn't determine if any structures had been destroyed or damaged, but 30 structures were threatened as of 9 p.m., McLean said.
Multiple crews, including Cal Fire, the Woodland Fire Department and the Davis Fire Department, were coordinating efforts on the blaze, for a time known as the Guinda Fire, which broke out about 2 p.m. in wildlands south of Guinda, an unincorporated community with a population of 254.
Mandatory evacuations were put in place between County Road 63 and County Road 76, west of Highway 16, along with the Murphy Ranch area. The evacuation center is at Rumsey Grange Hall.
About 30 miles to the northwest in Lake County, the massive Pawnee Fire flared up Saturday afternoon after a break in containment lines. Cal Fire announced new mandatory evacuations for Double Eagle Ranch at 5 p.m. The evacuation center is at Lower Lake High School. An evacuation advisory is also in place for residents south of Highway 20 between Morgan Valley Road and State Highway 16.
The 13,850-acre blaze was 73 percent contained as of 7:30 p.m., according to Cal Fire.
Live images of the County Fire could be seen on a webcam feed from nearby Cache Creek Casino, set up to monitor an expansion of the casino.
Near Guinda, Gene and Joyce Griffith sat outside their home in plastic lawn chairs as the County Fire burned in the distance. They noticed the blaze around 2 p.m. and later received evacuation orders via cellphone, but opted to stay.
Joyce Griffith said the two felt safe due to the short grass used for cattle grazing on the surrounding hills.
"We thought we were safe right here," she said, adding that they have never had a fire that close in the 73 years she has lived there.
The temperature in Guinda reached 104 degrees at 5 p.m., with the fire making the heat even more extreme.
Photos of both the County and Pawnee fires circulated on Twitter from the National Weather Service’s Sacramento Office showing smoke plumes spreading southward across portions of Yolo and Solano counties. Smoke was also visible to residents of Yolo County and Sacramento. By 7 p.m., people in the Bay Area said on social media that they were seeing smoke from the fires.
In Lake County, fire scanners reported at least 50 acres of "slop over" in the Pawnee Fire as of 4:30 p.m., with crews working to protect the Double Eagle area. The fire had charred about 13,700 acres before Saturday's flare-up.
At least two other fires of note started in the Sacramento area Saturday afternoon.
- Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer tweeted about 6:15 p.m. that air resources were responding to a 5-acre fire on Oak Beach in Folsom State Park. The beach is in Granite Bay near Folsom. Additional water resources were requested shortly after, according to Cal Fire. The fire was contained before 7 p.m.
- Crews from Cal Fire and Placer County also put out a 2-acre grass fire in Penryn. One home's deck, a barn and an outbuilding were damaged, according to Cal Fire.
"It's hot, but these fire are growing that quick," said Cal Fire's McLean. "We need to be out there paying attention."
He stressed the need for vigilance and safety, especially with fireworks and other fire dangers, as July Fourth festivities approach.
The only legal fireworks for sale in Sacramento County are sold by suppliers TNT, Phantom, and Discount Fireworks, and they have a "Safe and Sane" seal from the Office of the California State Fire Marshal. It's also illegal to set off Safe and Sane fireworks in adjacent counties where all fireworks are banned.
More helpful tips
But using "safe and sane" fireworks isn't the only safety tip needed, as many of the fireworks injuries and accidents that occur are attributed to legal and readily available products. Both the city of Sacramento and the National Safety Council offer tips on how to keep the whole family safe when using fireworks at home, which are amended below.
Read and follow all fireworks label directions.
Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Light only one firework at a time – always outdoors – in a clear and open space. Never ignite devices in a container, on a ladder, trash can or other elevated surface, or on a wooden fence.
Always maintain a safe distance from people, structures, vehicles, and any flammable materials.
Keep a bucket of water and a garden hose or fire extinguisher nearby in order to fully extinguish a malfunctioning firework, if needed.
Never attempt to re-light or fix a “dud” firework. Properly dispose of fireworks. Douse spent fireworks with water. Soak unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding. Do not use fireworks purchased in years past.
Children should be closely supervised around fireworks. Never allow children to handle or ignite fireworks. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the end of a sparkler burns at more than 1,200 degrees! Glow sticks are a safer alternative. Older children should use fireworks only under close adult supervision.
Animals tend to become frightened by the lights and sounds of fireworks. Keep animals in a safe and secure location, away from firework activity. The SPCA offers several tips on how to keep pets safe and secure during the holiday celebrations.
- Always have a plan to get everyone away from the area if a fire should occur and make sure everyone is aware of the plan. Also, designate someone responsible for phoning 911 in case of an emergency.
Ultimately, most of the safety groups and local fire departments recommend attending public fireworks displays in order to stay safe and to avoid any unintended non-compliance with local, state and federal laws. Fortunately, there are lots of Fourth of July events in the area.