VIEW, Calif. (AP) — Two people have died in a fire that has engulfed a city in Northern California, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremy LaRue said.
LaRue shared the news of the dead Sunday afternoon during a community gathering held at an elementary school north of Weed, a rural Northern California community that was burned by one of California’s latest wildfires. He did not immediately give names or other details, including the age and gender of the two dead.
“There is no easy way to put it,” he said before declaring a moment of silence.
Both LaRue and other officials acknowledged the uncertainty the community is facing, such as when people will be allowed to return to their homes and power will be restored. About 1,000 people were still under evacuation orders on Sunday as firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which escalated out of control on Friday at the start of the holiday weekend.
The blaze, known as the Mill Fire, has not expanded since Saturday morning and has covered about 6.6 square miles (17 square kilometers) at 25% containment, according to Cal Fire. A nearby mountain fire swelled in size on Sunday, officials said. It also started on Friday, albeit in a less populated area. More than 300 people have been ordered to evacuate.
Power outages, smoky skies, and uncertainty about what the day would bring left a feeling of emptiness around Weed City the morning after evacuation orders for thousands of other residents were lifted.
“It’s awfully quiet,” said Susan Tavalero, a city council member who was on her way to meet firefighters.
She was joined by Mayor Kim Green and they hoped to get more details on how many houses had been lost. A total of 132 structures were destroyed or damaged, fire officials said Sunday, though it’s unclear if these were homes, businesses or other buildings.
According to Cal Fire, three people were injured, but there are no other details. Two people have been taken to Mount Shasta Mercy Medical Center, Cal Fire Siskiyou division chief Phil Anzo said Saturday. One was in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burn unit. It is unclear whether these injuries were related to the deaths reported on Sunday.
Home to less than 3,000 people about 280 miles (451 km) northeast of San Francisco, Weed has long been regarded by passers-by as a quaint place to stop along Interstate 5. But the city, nestled in the shadow of Mount Shasta, is no stranger to forest fires.
Phil Anzo, head of the Siskiyou division at Cal Fire, acknowledged that paid fires have occurred in rural areas in recent years.
“Unfortunately, we saw a lot of fires in this area, we saw a lot of fires in this county and suffered a lot of destruction,” Anzo said.
Dominic Mates, 37, said he has had several close encounters with wildfires since he lived in Viida. Although fires are becoming more frequent, he does not want to leave.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “Everyone has risks everywhere, like Florida has hurricanes and floods, Louisiana has tornadoes and all that. It happens everywhere. Unfortunately, there are fires here.”
The winds turn Weed and its surroundings into a dangerous place for forest fires, driving the small flames to madness. Weed has survived three major fires since 2014, a severe drought that caused the largest and most destructive wildfires in California history.
This drought persists as California approaches what is traditionally its worst fire season ever. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Crews battled the blaze as much of the state went up in flames over the Labor Day weekend when temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in Los Angeles, exceptionally warm weather for Southern California. Temperatures were expected to be even higher in the Central Valley as far as the capital city of Sacramento.
The California Independent System Operator has issued a fifth “flexible alert” urging people to use their air conditioners and other appliances sparingly from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm to protect the power grid.
said Ronain of Sacramento, California. Associated Press journalist Stephanie Dazio from Los Angeles.
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