Trouble in Paradise
By Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer
and Associated Press
Twenty-two firefighters from Nevada County had been dispatched to four different wildland blazes as of late Friday as the fire season raged across California.
Nevada County did not register any major fires, but area residents must continue to be cautious, said Spike Newby, operations chief at the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.
“The wind events seem to be over, but temperatures are up and fuel moistures are two months ahead of what they usually are,” Newby said. “It can create really intense fires, and we’ll be dealing with this until the rains come.”
County firefighters were helping to battle the Humboldt Fire that was threatening Paradise, the Martin Fire near Santa Cruz and the Indian Fire on the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California.
Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike and Battalion Chief Tom Browning were called to the Whiskey Fire on the Mendocino National Forest as part of a U.S. Forest Service fire command team, Newby said.
Firefighters on Friday continued battling the wildfires across Northern California. The wind-whipped blaze in Butte County near Paradise destroyed at least 20 homes and forced thousands of residents to leave the area, including an elderly evacuee who died in the process.
Authorities in Butte County closed all roads to Paradise, a town of about 30,000 residents and ordered 9,000 residents to leave their homes. An evacuation shelter was set up in nearby Chico.
A woman, whose identity was not immediately released, suffered a heart attack during the evacuation and died, said Ruben Grijalva, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It’s the only fatality associated with Northern California fires this month.
The fire, which started Wednesday, had grown to more than 20,000 acres and threatened 4,600 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Twenty homes were confirmed to be destroyed, but fire officials said that number likely could double once fire crews were able to better assess the damage.
More than 1,500 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze, which was only 15 percent contained as of late Friday.
Five firefighters have sustained minor injuries.
Fed by strong, erratic winds on Thursday, the fire spread to the hills of the Butte College campus, where officials had set up an incident command center, said Cal Fire spokesman Joshpae White.
“The winds have calmed down significantly,” White said Friday morning. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make significantly progress today.”
Firefighters, however, needed to move quickly. Winds from the southwest were expected to pick up in the afternoon, which could push the flames closer to Paradise, said White, who was one of the firefighters injured a day earlier.
White said he was escorting reporters through the fire area in a pickup truck when the flames quickly began closing in. After safely evacuating the reporters, he helped nearby firefighters escape and was forced to drive through a wall of fire.
“It looked like a million blowtorches across the road,” White said. “We were taking significant heat. The heat was so intense, the windshield began cracking.”
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