A wildfire destroyed at least 10 homes and forced some 4,000 of people to flee their homes as flames jumped a road and moved into a Northern California town this weekend.
The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of about 1,200 about 90 miles north of San Francisco, on Sunday and burned the post office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several businesses as thick, black smoke loomed over the small downtown strip. Staff at a hospital in Clearlake, a neighboring town of about 15,000, rushed to transfer 16 patients to another hospital while firefighters carried goats and other animals to safety as homes burned around them.
The blaze was one of 11 large wildfires burning in California, where high temperatures combined with parched conditions brought on by a five-year drought raised the fire danger. In central California, a day-old wildfire burned 20 structures and threatened 150 homes.
Officials confirmed 10 homes around Lower Lake were burned, although witnesses said they could see more. Tragically, the Habitat for Humanity office was working to raise money to help rebuild homes destroyed by a devastating wildfire that killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes nearly a year ago.
“Emotions are still incredibly raw from the Valley Fire,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire about last year’s wildfire.
“I don’t think any of us thought we’d be back where we are tonight,” he said.
The fire broke out Saturday afternoon and grew to nearly 5 square miles as firefighters struggled to get a handle on the largely out-of-control blaze in 100-degree heat and windy conditions.
The fire created its own weather pattern and shifted northward into Lower Lake in the afternoon, said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fire was throwing embers and spreading rapidly as it fed on bone-dry vegetation. Large, explosive fires have torn through drought-plagued or hard-to-reach areas across California this summer, including a stubborn blaze near the picturesque Big Sur coastline that has burned 113 square miles since late July and destroyed nearly 60 homes.
Residents in Lower Lake and surrounding communities are still recovering from California’s third-most-destructive wildfire last year, which burned 120 square miles and cost more than $1.5 billion in damages. A report issued last week concluded that faulty wiring in a hot tub ignited the fire.
Lt. Doug Pittman, a Marin County sheriff’s spokesman who was working on behalf of Cal Fire, said residents fled their homes very quickly this weekend.
“They’ve seen it before,” Pittman told the San Francisco Chronicle.
In central California, similar conditions led the wildfire near Lake Nacimiento, about 180 miles northwest of Los Angeles, to explode from 2 to nearly 7 square miles on Sunday, said Cal Fire spokesman Bennet Milloy.
The blaze shifted north toward the lake, prompting authorities to evacuate some residents by boat.
In Southern California, forecasters warned of high fire danger due to a heat wave and gusty winds. Temperatures reached triple digits in numerous places, stoking an increased risk of wildfires across the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties through at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.