New California wildfire explodes, burning four firefighters – Los Angeles Times
Fueled by heat and winds, a wildfire exploded Saturday afternoon to 10,000 acres in Lake County, threatening several communities and leaving four firefighters with burns.
The firefighters were injured while battling the blaze and were taken to a burn center. Mike Lopez, president of CalFire Local 2881, said via Twitter on Saturday night that he visited the injured firefighters and that all were expected to make a full recovery.
The Valley fire was burning near Cobb and surrounding communities, where structures were threatened.
Across Amador and Calaveras counties, nearly 3,300 fire personnel battled the Butte fire that began southeast of Sacramento and has plowed through nearly 65,000 acres. Swift and stubborn, it began Wednesday, doubled in size the following night, then doubled again the next day — prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.
Residents of about 6,000 homes in California’s Gold Country have evacuated the threatened lands, defined by craggy terrain, desiccated timber and limited road access. The elements, along with high temperatures and low humidity, have created an intense environment where trees catch fire and cinder flies into the air, causing new flares to ignite among the pines, redwoods and sequoias.
“If a tree torches, the fire from the tree will send embers up the hill or across a ravine or across a ridge top. That starts another fire and then often the main head of the fire catches up with that,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Tolmachoff said the Butte fire has the same tendencies as the Rocky fire, a perplexing blaze that began in July in a rugged region north of Napa and rapidly swept across three counties before it was knocked down.
Officials hoped an expected drop in temperature, even if slight, would aid the firefighters’ faceoff with the Butte fire, which has destroyed 15 structures and threatened 6,400 others. Assessment teams began to evaluate the damage Saturday, when the fire was 10% contained. No injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
To the south, in the Sierra Nevada, another fire has burned for six weeks and chewed through more than 128,000 acres in an area that includes Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.
Firefighters combating the Rough fire have been forced to deal with long and cavernous canyons that are difficult to scale and that tend to funnel and accelerate the wind, spreading the fire rapidly, said Paul Garnier, a spokesman for the fire’s incident management team. A bark beetle infestation that has killed pine trees in the area has added fuel to an already dehydrated landscape.
Garnier said nearly 2,600 firefighters have successfully pushed the fire — sparked by lightning — toward McKenzie Ridge, east of Highway 180, where they hope it will be stopped by containment lines. By Saturday afternoon it was 29% contained.
At one point it appeared that the Rough fire might reach the Chicago Stump, the fabled trunk left behind from the General Noble Tree, which was cut into sections before being hauled to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to be put on display. According to lore, the reassembled tree was deemed a hoax by some who didn’t believe in the existence of giant sequoias.
The Chicago Stump and the Boole Tree — the largest tree by volume in the world — have been kept safe, Garnier said, after crews cut hand lines around them, ran in designated hose lines and blanketed the areas with an above-ground sprinkler system.
He added that giant sequoias actually rely on fire as part of a healthy ecosystem, because blazes clear out debris and help the trees germinate. “It really is more that man has come into this wild space so we have to be involved and make sure people and property are protected,” Garnier said.
Times staff writer Shelby Grad contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
7:30 p.m.: This post has been updated with a statement from Mike Lopez.
7:17 p.m.: This post has been updated with information on the growth of the Valley fire.
4:11 p.m.: This post has been updated with information on burn injuries to four firefighters.
3:01 p.m.: This post has been updated with background information.