LOWER LAKE, Calif. – Cooler, wetter weather helped crews make inroads Monday against a massive Northern California wildfire that tore through two dozen homes, threatened thousands more and forced 12,000 people to flee the flames.
The largest blaze in drought-stricken California roughly tripled in size over the weekend to 93 square miles, generating its own winds that spread the flames at an unprecedented rate, officials said.
Lower temperatures and higher humidity allowed firefighters to gain more control in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco, increasing containment after days of stalled efforts, said Capt. Don Camp of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“We are hoping we only have to deal with winds from the weather instead of the fire creating its own winds,” he said.
Numerous other wildfires in California, Washington state and Oregon took off as the effects of drought and summer heat turned the West Coast combustible.
Crews combating the large California blaze created buffers between some homes and the fire at its north end, where many of the 6,300 threatened properties are located in rural areas ranging from grasslands to steep hills.
Twelve thousand people have been forced from their homes or are being advised to leave. The fire has destroyed 24 homes and 26 outbuildings.
“Everyone we know that lives down there, they have nothing anymore. It’s just crazy,” Nikki Shatter of Clear Lake told KCAL-TV.
Additional fire crews were brought in, bringing the number of firefighters to nearly 3,000. Officials said the blaze showed unprecedented behavior, consuming about 31 square miles in hours.
One firefighter was killed battling a fast-moving that started last week in the Modoc National Forest, about 100 miles south of Oregon.
Engine Capt. David Ruhl of South Dakota was in a vehicle Thursday, looking for ways to fight the blaze, when officials lost contact with him, fire information officer Ken Sandusky said. His body was recovered Friday.
An autopsy to determine the cause of death will be conducted this week, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Ruhl, part of a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.
The fire had grown to about 6 square miles Sunday, and it was 20 percent contained.
Three firefighters who were burned while fighting a fire northeast of Sacramento have been released from the hospital.
One has returned to duty, and all are expected to make a full recovery after being injured Saturday, fire officials said. A fourth firefighter remains hospitalized with serious burns.
The fire that began July 25 destroyed 54 homes and two buildings and is threatening other buildings in Placer and Nevada counties. The 3 1/2-square-mile blaze is mostly contained.