WEED, Calif. (AP) — A rapidly progressing wildfire in rural Northern California on Friday injured several people, destroyed several homes and forced thousands of residents to flee, blocking roads at the start of a blistering Labor Day weekend.
The fire, called the Mill Fire, started on or near the property of Roseburg Forest Products, a factory that produces wood veneer. It quickly burned through homes, propelled by 35 mph (56 kph) winds, and by nightfall had engulfed 10.3 square miles of land.
Annie Peterson said she was sitting on the porch of her house near the Roseburg facility when “suddenly we heard a big thump and all that smoke just rolled toward us.”
Soon her house and a dozen others were on fire. She said members of her church helped evacuate her and her son, who is immobile. She said the scene of smoke and flames looked like “the world was ending.”
Many places in the area were also without power. About 9,000 customers, many of them in Weed, were affected by power outages shortly before 1 p.m., according to electrical utility PacifiCorp, which said they were due to the wildfire.
Suzi Brady, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said several people were injured.
Allison Hendrickson, spokeswoman for Dignity Health North State hospitals, said two people were taken to Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta. One was in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burns unit.
Meanwhile, a second fire that broke out a few miles north of the Mill Fire near the community of Gazelle had burned 600 acres (243 hectares) and led to some evacuations.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Siskyou County and said a federal grant had been received “to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress the fire.”
California is in the throes of a prolonged drought and now a relentless heat wave that is straining the electrical grid as people try to keep their cool. Residents were asked three days in a row to save energy in the late afternoon and evening hours, when energy consumption is highest.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades, and the weather will continue to make more extremes and wildfires more frequent and devastating. In the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most devastating fires in state history.
Southern California saw two major fires break out earlier this week. The last evacuation orders for them were lifted around the time the mill fire started Friday afternoon. The flames quickly spread and about 7,500 people received evacuation orders covering the small town of Weed and surrounding areas, which are about 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
dr. Deborah Higer, medical director of the Shasta View Nursing Center, said all 23 patients at the facility were evacuated, with 20 going to local hospitals and three at her own home, where hospital beds had been set up.
Olga Hood heard about the fire on her scanner and stepped out onto the porch of her Weed house to see smoke blowing over the next hill.
With the infamous gusts tearing through the city at the foot of Mount Shasta, she didn’t wait for an evacuation order. She packed her documents, medicines and little else, said her granddaughter, Cynthia Jones.
“With the wind in Weed, things like that move fast. It’s bad,” Jones said by phone from her home in Medford, Oregon. “It is not uncommon to have gusts of 50 to 60 mph on a normal day. As a child I was blown into a stream.”
Hood’s home for nearly three decades was spared from a fire last year and from the devastating Boles Fire that swept through town eight years ago, destroying more than 160 buildings, mostly homes.
Hood wept as she discussed the fire from a relative’s home in the hamlet of Granada, Jones said. She was unable to collect photos that had been important to her late husband.
Willo Balfrey, 82, an artist from Lake Shastina, said she was painting Friday afternoon when her grandson, who is a member of the California Highway Patrol, called to warn her of the rapidly spreading flames.
He said, ‘Don’t shut up, get your computer, get what you need and get out of the house now. It’s coming your way.’ So I did,” Balfrey said.
She grabbed a briefcase full of important documents, water, and her computer, iPhone, and chargers and headed out the door.
“I’ve come to the philosophy that if I have all my paperwork, what’s in the house isn’t that important,” she said.
She stopped to get her neighbor and they drove to a church parking lot in Montague, which was also home to about 40 other vehicles.
Rebecca Taylor, communications director for Roseburg Forest Products in Springfield, Oregon, said it’s unclear whether the fire started near or on the company’s property. A large vacant building on the edge of the company site has burned down, she said. All employees have been evacuated and no one has reported injuries, she said.
The factory employs 145 people, although not all of them were on shifts at the time, Taylor said.
“We are devastated to see this fire affecting the community in this way,” she said.
In Southern California, firefighters made progress on Friday against two major wildfires.
The containment of the Route Fire along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles increased to 56% and remained at just over 13 square miles, according to a statement from Cal Fire. On Wednesday, seven firefighters working in triple-digit temperatures had to be taken to hospitals for treatment of heat illness. All were released.
In eastern San Diego County, the Border 32 Fire stayed at just under 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and the containment increased to 65%. More than 1,500 people had to evacuate the area near the US-Mexico border when the fire broke out on Wednesday. By Friday afternoon, all evacuations had been lifted.
Two people were taken to hospital with burns. Three houses and seven other buildings were destroyed.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco, where Associated Press reporter Janie Har contributed. AP reporters Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley in Los Angeles also contributed.