A pair of wildfires burning without restraint about 8 miles apart in northeast California became the focus of state and federal firefighters Sunday as authorities reported that one of the blazes had destroyed eight homes and prompted the precautionary evacuation of a small long-term care hospital.
The two fires, among 14 burning in the state, prompting California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Saturday.
All the fires started within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest and had expanded into private property and scorched nearly 95 square miles as of Sunday evening, up from 39 square miles a day earlier.
The more destructive of the two was threatening the town of Burney, where officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital decided 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, the hospital reported on its website.
The Shasta County sheriff had Burney on an evacuation watch after ordering residents of three small neighboring communities to leave on Saturday night. The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said more than 700 residences were threatened. Sgt. John Greene said the area is sparsely populated and that authorities did not yet know how many residents were affected or if the destroyed homes were vacation houses or permanent dwellings.
Evacuations also remained in effect for a community on the edge of the second fire, which was sparked by lightning Wednesday. About 40 homes were at risk, officials said.
The two blazes were among 14 that federal, state and local fire crews were tackling on Sunday in central and Northern California, state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said. Together, they have consumed more than 183 square miles of timber and brush left parched by the state’s extended drought, Mathisen said, adding that the coming week promises not to be any easier.
“Today we are looking at slightly cooler temperatures, but Northern California continues to be hot and dry and breezy in some areas, and in fact we are looking at a fire weather watch going into effect Monday morning for a large portion of Northern and northeast California and possible thunderstorms, which could mean more lightning,” he said.
The number of fires led Brown to declare a state of emergency Saturday. His proclamation said the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat.
Siskiyou County, which borders Oregon, also was contending with two major fires, both started by lightning last week. One of them, which began in Oregon, threatened hundreds of structures and charred 51 square miles in both states, including 14 square miles on the California side. It burned three homes and other structures, and evacuations remained in place for several neighborhoods in both states.
Federal fire officials said that along with working to protect homes, one of their priorities was to safeguard a water station that supplies the city of Yreka. Brown secured a federal grant to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight the blaze.
Meanwhile, federal officials asked residents in two communities southwest of Yreka to start preparing to evacuate because of advancing flames from a cluster of blazes that had charred 8.6 square miles by Sunday.
Evacuation orders were lifted in Modoc County near the community of Day, where a lightning-sparked blaze that started Wednesday had torched 20 square miles.
In Washington state, a wildfire that started during a lightning storm Saturday night burned several structures, authorities said. North of that blaze, firefighters contained another wildfire that started Friday and burned six to eight homes.