GRIZZLY FLATS, Calif. (AP) – A small fire tore through a mobile home park, leaving dozens of homes in ashes, the latest in a series of blast-fueled explosive fires that have swept through the mountains and forests of Northern California.
The drought-parched region was expected to see red flag warnings for dangerously high winds and hot, dry weather through Thursday.
Those conditions have fueled a dozen wildfires, including the month-long Dixie Fire and the nearby Caldor Fire in the northern Sierra Nevada that incinerated much of the small rural towns of Greenville and the Grizzly Flats.
No deaths have been reported despite the speed and damage of the flames.
On Wednesday, a grass fire driven by winds of up to 30 mph (48 kilometers per hour) destroyed dozens of mobile homes in Lake County and injured at least one resident before firefighters halted their advance, firefighters said in an evening briefing.
Rows of houses were destroyed in at least two blocks and television images showed crews dousing burning houses with water. The children were rushed out of an elementary school when a field across the street burned down.
About 1,600 people were ordered to flee, and Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin warned of an “immediate threat to life and property.”
Lake County has experienced repeated wildfires in the last decade that have destroyed hundreds of homes.
At least 16,000 other homes remain threatened by the California wildfires, which are among 100 burning in a dozen western states, fire officials said.
Tens of thousands of people remain under evacuation orders.
No deaths have been reported, despite the speed and ferocity of the flames, which have at times created their own erratic winds from hot air swirling in clouds of smoke. Flames have also leapt miles ahead of the front lines as winds scattered embers, hot ash and driftwood into dry vegetation, said Thom Porter, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“This is not going to end anytime soon,” he said of the Dixie Fire. “Everybody is going to be sucking smoke for a long time.”
Fire crews were able to make some headway on the Dixie fire on Wednesday, increasing containment to 35%, and some evacuation orders were lifted in Plumas and Tehama counties, where some people had not seen their homes for a month.
But the Dixie and Caldor fires still threatened many small groups of households in and around the national forests along with larger communities, such as Pollock Pines, population 7,000, and Susanville, population 18,000, which is the headquarters. of Lassen County.
The Eldorado National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park were closed.
The Dixie Fire is the first to burn from east to west through the backbone of California, where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains meet. It had burned over 1,000 square miles (2,590 square kilometers) and was only one-third contained.
On Wednesday, dozens of trucks and fire crews were moved from that battle to fight the Caldor fire, which has exploded through heavy wood on steep terrain since it erupted southwest of Lake Tahoe over the weekend.
The fire has blackened nearly 220 square miles (570 square kilometers) and devastated Grizzly Flats, a community of about 1,200 residents, on Tuesday.
Dozens of houses were burned, according to authorities, but the counts were incomplete. Those who saw the aftermath saw few houses standing. Lonely chimneys rose from the ashes, little more than rows of chairs remained from a church, and burned shells from cars littered the landscape.
Chris Sheean said the dream house he bought six weeks ago near the elementary school went up in smoke. He felt lucky that he, his wife, cats and dog got out safely hours before the flames hit.
“It is devastation. You know, there’s really no way to explain the feeling, the loss, ”Sheean said. “Maybe next to losing a child, maybe a baby. … Everything we had, everything we built is gone. “
California wildfires are on track to exceed the amount of land burned last year, the most in modern history. The fires have also destroyed areas of the Timber Belt that serve as the centerpiece of the state’s climate reduction plan because the trees can store carbon dioxide.
“We are seeing generational destruction of forests because of what these fires are doing,” Porter said. “This is going to take a long time to come back.”
Most of this year’s fires have affected the northern part of the state, largely without affecting southern California, which was expected to see clouds and even a possibility of drizzle in some areas Thursday. Fire conditions in the region are expected to worsen in the fall.
Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Olga R. Rodríguez and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.