Thousands Flee, Scores Injured As Fire Burns California

WEED, Calif. (AP) – Thousands of people remained under evacuation orders Saturday after a wind-driven wildfire in rural Northern California injured people and burned an unknown number of homes.

The blaze that started Friday afternoon on or near a wood products factory quickly broke out in a neighborhood on the north end of Weed, but then carried the flames away from the town of about 2,600 people.

Evacuees described thick smoke and chunks of ash raining down.

Annie Peterson said she was sitting on the porch of her home near Roseburg Forest Products, which makes wood veneer, when “all of a sudden we heard a big bang and all this smoke was just rolling toward us.”

Very quickly her house and about a dozen others caught fire. She said members of her congregation helped evacuate her and her son, who is immobile. He said the scene of smoke and flames looked like “the world was coming to an end”.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Susie Brady said several people were injured.

Allison Hendrickson, a 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 taken to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burn unit.

Rebecca Taylor, director of communications for Springfield, Ore.-based Roseburg Forest Products, said it was unclear whether the fire started near or on company property. A large empty building on the edge of the company’s property burned, he said. All workers were evacuated and no one has reported injuries, he said.

The blaze, dubbed the Mill Fire, was fanned by 35 mph (56 km/h) winds and quickly engulfed 4 square miles (10.3 square kilometers) of land.

The flames raced through grass, brush and timber. About 7,500 people in Weed and several nearby communities were ordered to evacuate.

Dr. Deborah Heiger, medical director at Shasta View Nursing Center, said all 23 patients at the facility were evacuated, with 20 going to local hospitals and three staying at her home, where hospital beds had been set up.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Siskyou County and said he received a federal grant “to ensure the availability of vital resources to fight the fire.”

Around the time the fire started, power outages were reported that affected about 9,000 customers and several thousand remained without power late into the evening, according to a holiday website for power company PacifiCorp, which it said was due to the fire.

It was the third major wildfire in as many days in California, which has been in the grips of a prolonged drought and is now reeling under a heat wave that was expected to push temperatures above the 100-degree mark in many areas during Labor Day. .

Thousands of people were also ordered to evacuate Wednesday from a wildfire in Castaic north of Los Angeles and a wildfire in eastern San Diego County near the Mexican border where two people were badly burned and several homes were destroyed. These flames were 56% and 65% contained, respectively, and all evacuations had been lifted.

The heat taxed the state’s power grid as people tried to stay cool. For the fourth day, residents were asked to save electricity on Saturday during the late afternoon and evening hours.

The Mill Fire was burning about an hour’s drive from the Oregon state line. A few miles north of the fire, a second fire broke out Friday near the community of Gazelle. The mountain fire has burned more than 2 square miles (6 square kilometers), but no injuries or building damage were reported.

The entire region has faced repeated devastating fires in recent years. The Mill fire was only about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of where the McKinney fire — the state’s deadliest of the year — broke out in late July. It killed four people and destroyed dozens of houses.

Olga Hood left her home in Weed on Friday as smoke billowed over the adjacent hill.

With the infamous gusts tearing through the town at the base of Mount Shasta, he wasn’t expecting an evacuation order. She packed her papers, medicine and more, said her granddaughter, Cynthia Jones.

“With the wind in Weed everything like that moves fast. It’s bad,” her granddaughter, Cynthia Jones, said by phone from her home in Medford, Oregon. “It’s not unusual to get gusts of 50 to 60 mph on a normal day. I was thrown into a creek as a child.”

Hood’s nearly three-decade-old home escaped a fire last year and the devastating Boles Fire that tore through the town eight years ago, destroying more than 160 buildings, mostly homes.

Hood cried as she discussed the fire from a relative’s home in Granada Township, Jones said. She was unable to collect photographs that were important to her late husband.

Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history.

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Associated Press reporters Olga R. Rodriguez and Janie Har in San Francisco and Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this article.

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