Western Wildfires Update: Pair of Northeastern California Blazes Torch 8 Homes, Force Evacuations

August 5, 2014

As the West continues to deal with a relentless summer fire season, two particular blazes in Northern California have firefighters especially worried.

The two wildfires started burning within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest, and have combined to char more than 100 square miles of land by Monday night.The blazes raged mostly uncontrolled within miles of each other, and the worst of the two has burned eight homes and threatened over 700 more, state fire spokeswoman Capt. Amy Head said. There are at least 14 wildfires currently burning in California.

They're moving into areas of Shasta County that are populated, forcing authorities to put residents in the small town of Burney on an evacuation watch after three small nearby communities were forced to evacuate Sunday night. 

(MORE: California's Record-Setting Drought Looks Even Worse From Space)

"Right now we're continuing to put in containment lines to box in the fires as they are growing at such an explosive rate," Head said. "We also want to make sure that if there are any evacuation notices, that the residents will listen to what officials are saying and heed the warning."

In downtown Burney, where there was some road closures, residents on Monday went about normal activities with flames and smoke as backdrop.

A day earlier, the fires prompted officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital to evacuate their 49-bed annex for patients with dementia and other conditions requiring skilled nursing. The patients were transferred to a hospital in Redding, about 55 miles away, according to the hospital's website.

They were among about a dozen fires that had burned some 209 square miles across the state and that more than 7,500 federal and state firefighters battled, Head said. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Saturday, saying the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires were beyond the control of any single local government and required the combined forces of regions to combat.

Nick Wiltgen, meteorologist, said that lightning could become a concern next week even as much-needed rain moves into the area.

"Showers and thunderstorms will shift north into the region Monday and Tuesday," Wiltgen said. "While the rain could help fight some fires, prolific lightning could start other fires. Furthermore, the erratic winds thunderstorms produce could make the firefight more difficult, and lightning and flash floods could also put the firefighters' safety at risk."

(MORE: Typhoon Targets Millions)

California is 35 percent above average in the number of fires it's seen so far this year, state fire spokesman Dennis Mathisen said Sunday. The state is also 44 percent above average in the amount of land burned.

While firefighters hoped to take advantage of the humid conditions in Northern California on Monday, they also faced red flag warnings as possible thunderstorms were expected Monday. The storms could bring more fire-causing lightning, Head said.

Meanwhile, a major wildfire in the Siskiyou Mountains along the Oregon-California border has slowed as temperatures cooled, but it still jeopardizes 270 residences after burning six scattered rural homes.

Firefighters on Monday got a handle on the blaze 15 miles east of Ashland that scorched 72 square miles - 57 of them in Oregon and the rest in California. Some evacuation warnings remained in force.

Overall, nine large fires were burning across 118 square miles of forest and rangeland in Oregon, most of them east of the Cascade Range. Three of them were nearly fully contained.

In Washington state, a wind-whipped blaze destroyed about a dozen structures and prompted an evacuation notice for about 80 homes in Kittitas County. Other residents have been told to be ready to leave, said Jill Beedle, a spokeswoman for the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center.

It's unknown if the structures that burned were full-time residences, summer cabins or outbuildings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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