Wildfire destroys 13 homes in Northern California as heat wave continues

A firefighter keeps watch on advancing flames under a smoky sky

A firefighter keeps watch on advancing flames from the Lake fire in Los Olivos on Saturday.
(Eric Thayer / Associated Press)

A wildfire that broke out near Oroville last week amid California’s record-breaking heat wave destroyed 13 homes and more than a dozen other buildings, state fire officials said.

The Thompson fire arrived Friday in lockstep with a heat wave that parked itself over the West, setting the stage for the fire to sustain itself on brush and vegetation in extreme heat and dry winds in Butte County. Over the weekend, it grew to 3,789 acres before it was declared 100% contained on Monday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The word that our fire chief has been using to describe the fire is stubborn,” Cal Fire spokesperson Rick Carhart said. “The fire broke out on a day that was extremely hot, quite windy and the humidity was almost nothing.”

The fire was fanned by 20 mph north winds and burned through steep terrain, putting a strain on firefighters battling the flames.

Thirteen single-family homes were destroyed, five homes were damaged, and 13 other buildings were also destroyed, according to Cal Fire. Two firefighters have been injured, Carhart said. There have been no reports of civilian injuries.

Though the Thompson fire is contained, the lingering heat wave sets the stage for more dry conditions with extreme heat that could drive more fast-moving wildfires and stretch firefighting resources thin. Temperatures on Tuesday continued to linger 10-15 degrees above average across huge swaths of the state and show no signs of letting up until the weekend.

“That prolonged heat really makes a big difference that stresses the vegetation and especially the firefighters,” meteorologist Alex Tardy with the National Weather Service in San Diego said.

Among the other fires in the state, the Vista fire in the San Bernardino National Forest is currently chewing its way up steep terrain near Mt. Baldy and Wrightwood, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The fire nearly doubled in size overnight and has burned 1,095 acres since it started Sunday afternoon in steep, remote terrain. Details on the fire’s containment were not immediately available.

Temperatures around the fire near Mt. Baldy, which is around the 7,000 foot elevation, will reach up to the 90s on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Firefighters can also expect to see noticeable wind gusts, but they should follow a predictable pattern, rising in the day and dropping at night, Tardy said.

The area is flush with vegetation now in the heat after a strong rainy season earlier this year.

“That area near Lytle Creek is the wettest part of the mountain with a lot of vegetation,” Tardy said. “That means a lot of fuels are already in place.”

In Santa Barbara County, a wildfire forced residents near Figueroa Mountain to leave their homes as authorities issued evacuation orders on Monday.

The Lake fire continues to burn on the western edge of the Los Padres National Forest amid record low levels of moisture, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire was first reported Friday afternoon north east of the city of Los Olivos and has burned 26,176 acres since then to become the biggest fire in California so far this year, officials said.

The fire is burning near several residential properties including the Sycamore Valley Ranch, formerly Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Firefighters report 12% containment on the fire as of Tuesday morning.

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