Sep 17, 2014 11:47 PM
Over 2,000 homes threatened in California fire
The Associated Press
WEED, Calif. (AP) Teams of firefighters went house-to-house on Wednesday to pin down damage done by a wildfire that officials estimated had destroyed 110 homes and damaged another 90 in the small town of Weed while another Northern California blaze east of Sacramento was threatening more than 2,000 homes as it burned out of control, officials said.
The new figures from Weed brought a marked increase from the initial estimate that a total of 150 structures had been destroyed or damaged in the blaze that began Monday and rapidly swept across the town. Four firefighters lost their homes.
In the fire east of Sacramento, a total of 2,500 firefighters were now taking on the blaze that was threatening 2,003 homes and another 1,505 smaller structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
"It's been an explosive couple of days," CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
The fire has burned nearly 44 square miles of trees and brush and is just 5 percent contained.
"We are faced with a large and dangerous fire," Laurence Crabtree, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the Eldorado National Forest, told the Sacramento Bee. "We have had significant losses of public timber land, private timberland and watershed."
Most of the threatened homes were in Pollock Pines, 60 miles east of Sacramento. Hundreds of them are under evacuation orders, but it wasn't immediately clear exactly how many.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, freeing up funds for the two fires. Brown had also secured federal grants to fight each of them.
In Weed, two churches, a community center and the library also burned to the ground, while an elementary school and the city's last wood-products mill were damaged by flames that had been pushed by 40 mph winds.
On Wednesday, firefighters braced for more wind as they battled the 375-acre fire, and insurance companies worked to find places to live for the people who lost their homes.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation. It was 60 percent contained.
Burned neighborhoods remained off-limits, but people have been finding ways in since the fire started.
The Rev. Bill Hofer, pastor of Weed Berean Church, said power was back on in his home, which was still standing on the edge of the devastation zone, and he was planning to return Wednesday night despite the evacuation order to deter vandalism.
"The more people home with the lights on, the better," he said.
At the Roseburg Forest Products veneer mill, workers looked for structural damage to the main manufacturing facility. A maintenance shed was reduced to twisted sheet-metal.
"We were in the middle of its path," said Kellye Wise, vice president of human resources for the company based in Dillard, Oregon. He said employees also lost homes in the blaze.
The temporary closure of the mill came as another blow to a town still suffering from logging cutbacks in the 1990s intended to protect fish and wildlife, Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff said.
With 170 workers, the mill is the second-largest employer in Weed, a blue-collar town of 3,000 people in the shadow of Mount Shasta. He said some residents are anxious to rebuild.
"Then there are others still pretty well devastated," he said. "But I think the community is just trying to pull together and get back on track."
Near Yosemite National Park, a 320-acre fire that damaged or destroyed 71 structures, including 37 homes, around Oakhurst was 70 percent contained and all remaining evacuations were canceled.
More than 4,000 wildfires have burned in California this year.
Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.