California wine country fire began near damaged PG&E tower, 2,000 flee

California wine country fire began near damaged PG&E tower, 2,000 flee
By Stephen Lam

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – A wind-driven wildfire that forced some 2,000 people to flee homes in Northern California’s wine country on Thursday erupted near the base of a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co, utility and fire officials said.

The company, a unit of bankrupt holding company PG&E Corp <PCG.N>, acknowledged in an “electric safety incident” report to the California Public Utilities Commission that one of its power lines malfunctioned at about the time and location of the fire’s origin on Wednesday night.

It said a PG&E technician inspecting the site on Thursday found the area taped off by state fire department personnel who brought to his attention “what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower”.

PG&E had shut down some electric distribution wires in the area as a precaution against dangerously high winds at the time, but high-voltage transmission lines such as that in question were left on as they were deemed durable enough for the forecast conditions, the utility said in a public statement.

The transmission tower involved had been examined this year in PG&E’s wildfire safety inspection program, it added.

Neither PG&E nor the commission said whether the damaged tower or the malfunctioning transmission line attached to it were suspected of igniting the blaze, dubbed the Kincade fire, which has destroyed about a dozen homes and other structures.

The cause is being investigated, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, which listed the same place and time of origin for the fire as the tower incident reported by PG&E.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection last January, citing more than $30 billion in liability stemming from devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 found to have been sparked by its equipment.

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County was the worst of several blazes raging throughout California as PG&E and other utilities cut off electricity to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in preventive blackouts to reduce wildfire risks from high winds.

Hundreds of miles to the south in the Canyon County community of Los Angeles County, a blaze called the Tick fire prompted evacuation of an estimated 40,000 residents. Flames consumed about 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) and destroyed an unknown number of structures, according to the Los Angeles City News Service.

HISTORIC TOWN EVACUATED

By Thursday, the Sonoma County blaze had scorched about 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), Cal Fire said. No injuries have been reported.

Ground crews fought the blaze at close range with hand tools and bulldozers, assisted by water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying payloads of fire-retardant slurry.

The Sonoma County sheriff’s office ordered the evacuation of Geyserville, a town of nearly 900 people, founded in the mid-19th century and named for nearby hot springs and geothermal attractions.

A Reuters photographer saw about a dozen homes in flames in the town on Thursday.

By midday, mandatory evacuation notices covered a total of roughly 2,000 people, the sheriff’s office said. An evacuation warning in the northern end of the nearby larger town of Healdsburg, urged residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

Both towns, about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco, are hubs of upscale restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, inns, and shops surrounded by rolling hills dotted by vineyards.

Large parts of California were under red-flag alerts this week following forecasts of hot, dry winds blowing into populated areas from deserts to the east.

The number of homes and workplaces without power could climb to more than 500,000 under worst-case scenarios for precautionary outages this week, according to PG&E, Southern California Edison <EIX.N> and other electricity providers.

PG&E said in a statement on Thursday it had shut off power for about 178,000 houses and businesses in northern California during an Oct. 23 public safety power shutoff (PSPS) event.

The company has restored power to 93% of those customers following announcements that the weather was “all-clear,” the statement said.

“Safety patrols, inspections and power restoration took place throughout the day and continues through the night,” PG&E said, adding that it expects power to be restored to all customers on Friday, unless any equipment is damaged and needs repair.

Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, said that while the winds have abated for Friday in northern California, the area is in for more high winds this weekend.

“Yes, it’s improving, most of the warnings there have been lifted for now,” Chenard said. “But we have another (wind) event coming in for Saturday and at least through Sunday. This isn’t over.”

Earlier on Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom, who called PG&E’s handling of that incident “unacceptable,” said the company appeared to have “significantly” improved its readiness for this week’s wildfire threat.

Chenard said that hot dry winds, called the Santa Ana winds in Southern California east of San Bernardino and down to San Diego are expected to continue through the weekend.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Geyserville; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast)

Insurance losses for California wildfires top $11.4 billion

Firefighters battle a wildfire near Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

By Sharon Bernstein and Suzanne Barlyn

SACRAMENTO, Calif./NEW YORK (Reuters) – The deadliest and most destructive California wildfires in a century caused insurers more than $11.4 billion in losses, the state’s insurance regulator said Monday.

The total amount of insured losses for the November Camp Fire, which destroyed most of the town of Paradise in northern California, jumped 25 percent since December, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara told reporters during a media event.

More than 13,000 insured homes and businesses were destroyed out of more than 46,000 claims reported by insurers.

The figures are “unprecedented,” Lara said. “These are massive numbers for us.” Lara said.

The November wildfires, combined with other blazes in the state drove total 2018 insured losses to $12.4 billion.

A total of 89 people died in the Camp Fire and thousands were left homeless.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Suzanne Barlyn in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Parts of ravaged Paradise open for first time since California wildfire

FILE PHOTO: Deer are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Saif Tawfeeq

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Thousands of Paradise residents who fled a monster blaze a month ago were allowed on Wednesday to return to some neighborhoods in the Northern California city nearly obliterated by one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

Tim Moniz, a rice farmer, and welder in his 50s, personally surveyed the remains of his Paradise property for the first time since the fire, confirming his suspicions that his house was gone. He and his wife only recently paid off the mortgage.

“It seems unfair that some houses make it and yours don’t,” Moniz said. “I just had to get back up and see it and try to salvage something.”

Paradise residents who return to their ravaged homes will face a daunting task to resume normal life, with some likely to encounter months or even years of work to obtain compensation for their losses and rebuild.

Authorities hurriedly evacuated some 50,000 people in Paradise and neighboring towns when the Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8. The fire killed at least 85 people with nearly a dozen still unaccounted for. It also destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in the wooded, foothill communities.

Evacuation orders were previously lifted in areas outside Paradise, but Wednesday marked the first day officials opened parts of the city itself in the midst of the fire’s scorched wasteland of 153,000 acres (61,900 hectares).

REBUILDING A RESHAPED TOWN

Moniz said he is among those planning to rebuild, rather than move away.

But the fire’s devastation will reshape the town and – at least initially – lower its population, Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said by telephone.

“All my friends who are in their 80s, they’re just not going to go through this process of rebuilding,” Jones said, adding she believes three-quarters of Paradise residents will rebuild.

Some residents may be able to salvage jewelry or even stuff such as intact tool boxes from the rubble of their houses, said Jones, who lost her own home in the fire.

Some residents rumbled back into town in recreational vehicles, apparently planning to spend the night, Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said by phone.

Authorities said they will let some residents stay overnight on their properties, but advise against it because electricity, gas and other services were not available.

Paradise’s skyline is dotted with 30 large cranes that crews are using to remove debris, said city spokesman Matt Gates.

Health and safety specialists are sweeping through Paradise to remove batteries, propane tanks, household chemicals and other environmental hazards in the aftermath of the fire, Gates said. Residents entering the re-opened areas of town were offered gear to protect themselves from hazardous materials, Reinbold said.

Full removal of debris could take nine months, Jones said.

(Reporting by Saif Tawfeeq; Additional reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Some 88 killed, 196 missing three weeks after Camp Fire began: sheriff

FILE PHOTO: A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

By Lee van der Voo

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) -At least 88 people have been killed and 196 people are listed as missing three weeks after the deadliest wildfire in California history torched a small mountain community leaving it in smoldering ruins, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Camp Fire, which began on Nov. 8, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned nearly 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares), an area five times the size of San Francisco, in and around the town of Paradise, a northern California community of 27,000 people.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said on Wednesday he was optimistic that some of the 196 people listed as missing could still be alive.

“That said, as we move into repopulating these areas and allowing people to go into the areas, it is possible that some will find bones or bone fragments,” he told reporters, adding that authorities have ended their search for victims.

The number of people on the list of missing has fluctuated. People who were believed missing have been found in shelters or staying in hotels or with friends, authorities said.

Three people were removed from the list of missing on Wednesday when they were found in an RV park, the sheriff said.

Some 35 people who were killed in the fire have been identified through DNA and other forensics while another 47 have been tentatively identified. Six remain unidentified, the sheriff said.

Fire officials said they reached full containment of the fire on Sunday. Investigators have yet to determine the cause.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

California wildfire victims sue utility PG&E alleging negligence

A Pacific Gas & Electric lineman cuts a downed power line during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

(Reuters) – Victims of California’s deadliest wildfire have filed a lawsuit against PG&E Corp alleging negligence and health and safety code violations by the utility company in the blaze that has killed at least 48 people.

The lawsuit seeking damages against California’s largest public utility was filed on Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court by three law firms, which refer to themselves as Northern California Fire Lawyers.

“It’s important to remember that the cause (of the “Camp Fire”) has yet to be determined,” PG&E said in a statement. “Right now, our primary focus is on the communities, supporting first responders and getting our crews positioned and ready to respond when we get access so that we can safely restore gas and electricity to our customers.”

The Camp Fire, which began last Thursday, has all but wiped out the Sierra foothills town of Paradise in Butte County, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, that was overrun by flames and largely incinerated.

But both PG&E and Southern California Edison have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas around the time the blazes were first reported.

The lawsuit alleged that PG&E failed to properly maintain, repair and replace its equipment and that “its inexcusable behavior contributed to the cause of the ‘Camp Fire.'”

The lawsuit alleges that prior to the Camp Fire, PG&E began warning customers it might turn off power because of the high risk of wildfires.

“Despite its own recognition of these impending hazardous conditions, on the day of the Camp Fire’s ignition, PG&E ultimately made the decision not to proceed with its plans for a power shutoff,” the lawsuit stated.

Last month PG&E cut off electric power to about 60,000 customers to prevent wildfires as high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Searchers looking for the remains of victims in the charred ruins of Paradise were set to expand their operation on Wednesday as firefighters stepped up efforts to contain the blaze.

The origins of the “Camp Fire” and the “Woolsey Fire” that has ravaged parts of southern California are still under investigation.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told KRCR television on Wednesday that attributing the fire to PG&E at this point was “speculative.”

But he added that officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) arrived in the area immediately after the fire began to ensure that any equipment or other evidence would be preserved for an investigation.

PG&E stock slid 22.8 percent to $25.25.

PG&E’s bonds have weakened broadly after the California electric utility said late Tuesday it had borrowed more than $3 billion from its credit facilities. It also warned it might face liabilities stemming from the Camp Fire that could exceed its insurance coverage.

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Ferocious winds whip California fires as death toll rises to 31

The Camp Fire burns near Big Bend, California, U.S., November 10, 2018. Picture taken November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen La

By Stephen Lam

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – The death toll from wildfires raging in California rose to 31 on Sunday after six more people were found killed in what was poised to become the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Officials said the bodies of five people were found in burned-out homes and the sixth was found in a vehicle in northern California’s Camp Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Sunday evening.

Some 228 people are still unaccounted for, Honea said, while another 137 people have been located after friends or relatives reported being unable to contact them.

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The so-called Camp Fire in the northern part of the state has claimed at least 29 lives since it broke out on Thursday. Hundreds of miles to the south, at least two people have died in the Woolsey Fire threatening the wealthy beach community of Malibu, near Los Angeles.

Looting was reported in the southern fire area and arrests were made, police reported.

Hot dry winds expected to blow until Tuesday whipped up the flames and heightened the urgency of evacuation orders, officials said. It has been more than 210 days since the area received half an inch or more of rain, making it easy for spot fires to spread to fresh patches of tinder-dry vegetation, fire officials said on Sunday.

“We are entering a new normal,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, noting at a news conference that California’s fires in 2018 grow far more quickly than they did even 10 years ago.

“The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,” he said.

Several officials urged residents to heed evacuation orders, noting they themselves had followed orders to leave their homes for safety.

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

“Winds are already blowing,” Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. “They are going to blow for the next three days. Your house can be rebuilt but you can’t bring your life back.”

Crews pushed forward to achieve 25 percent containment of the Camp Fire in northern California, which had burned 111,000 acres (45,000 hectares) at the edge of the Plumas National Forest, according to Cal Fire’s website.

In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire scorched at least 83,275 acres, the blaze was only 10 percent contained.

The Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in Paradise, more structures than any other California wildfire on record.

Its death toll now equals that of the Griffith Park Fire in 1933, the deadliest wildfire on record in California.

Several of the bodies discovered earlier this week were found in or near burned out cars, police have said. The flames descended on Paradise so fast that many people were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives down the only road through the mountain town.

Winds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour) were forecast to blow in the north and gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph), the so-called Santa Ana “devil wind,” were expected in Southern California.

The Woolsey Fire doubled in size from Friday night into Sunday, threatening thousands of homes after triggering mandatory evacuation orders for a quarter million people in the upscale Malibu beach colony as well as other communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Many celebrities live in the area. Despite earlier news reports, including by Reuters, that the fire had destroyed the home of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender advocate and former athlete, her publicist said on Sunday that it had survived.

The entire nearby city of Calabasas, home to more than 20,000 people, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order by city officials on Sunday evening.

Governor Jerry Brown asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover.

Trump, on a trip to France, said in a Twitter post early Sunday: “With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”

The Republican president has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.

State officials have blamed climate change and said many of the burn areas have been in federally managed lands.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Paradise; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Allen in New York, and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Sandra Maler)

Five dead in California wildfire as second blaze forces Malibu evacuation

Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Stephen Lam

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – A rapidly moving wildfire in Northern California killed five people when flames engulfed their vehicles as they attempted to flee the mountain town of Paradise in one of three infernos raging across the state, authorities said on Friday.

Nearly 500 miles (800 km) to the south, a blaze forced the evacuation of the upscale oceanside city of Malibu, home to many celebrities, and threatened the beleaguered town of Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people this week in a shooting rampage in a bar and dance hall.

Since it broke out on Thursday, the so-called Camp Fire has more than tripled in size to 70,000 acres (2,838 hectares) after engulfing Paradise, a town of nearly 30,000 people, and was only 5-percent contained by Friday.

“The town is devastated, everything is destroyed,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Mclean, referring to Paradise, which has a population of 26,000 including many retirees.

In addition to the five people found dead in their vehicles, many were forced to abandon their cars and run for their lives down the sole road through the mountain town. About 2,000 structures were destroyed in the area, officials said.

The death toll is expected to climb above five, Mclean said, because flames have blocked search and rescue crews from looking for victims in destroyed homes.

“The only reason they found the five is because they were still on the road,” Mclean said.

HOT WINDS

The fires in California have been driven by hot winds from the east reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 kph), forcing firefighters to scramble to keep up with the fast-moving flames.

In Southern California, the 14,000-acre (5,666-hectare) Woolsey Fire led authorities on Friday morning to expand mandatory evacuation orders to the entire city of Malibu.

Flames completely engulfed large homes in at least one affluent neighborhood.

“Fire is now burning out of control and heading into populated areas of Malibu,” the city said in a statement online. “All residents must evacuate immediately.”

In all, the Woolsey Fire led authorities to issue evacuation orders for 75,000 homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

It was not immediately clear how many homes had been destroyed.

Video shot from a news helicopter showed cars at a standstill on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, about 30 miles (48 km) west of downtown Los Angeles. An unspecified number of homes were destroyed there, according to local media.

MOVIE SET TOWN ABLAZE

The Woolsey Fire broke out on Thursday and quickly jumped the 101 Freeway. On Friday, it climbed across the Santa Monica Mountains toward Malibu.

It also threatened parts of nearby Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of the shooting massacre earlier this week, stunning a community with a reputation for safety.

Linda Parks, a Ventura County supervisor, whose district covers Thousand Oaks, lamented the timing of the wildfire. “We are still reeling, but we are also very resilient,” she said.

On its path of destruction, the fire destroyed a Western-themed movie and television set in Agoura, north of Malibu, a unit of the National Park Service said on Twitter.

Western Town was created in the 1950s for television shows such as “The Cisco Kid,” and more recently was used for television shows such as “Westworld” and “Weeds,” and was a draw for visitors.

California Acting Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency for areas affected by the Woolsey and Hill fires in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

In Los Angeles, another fire in Griffith Park forced the Los Angeles Zoo to evacuate a number of show birds and some small primates on Friday as flames came within less than 2 miles (3 km) of the facility, zoo officials said in a statement.

“Animals and employees are safe,” the statement said.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Crews fight to outflank raging Northern California wildfire

Smoke rises as the large fire spread along Pope Valley in California, U.S., September 8, 2018 in this picture obtained on September 8, 2018 from social media. Craig Philpott/via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters battled on Saturday to outflank a wildfire that has forced the closure of an interstate highway in Northern California as the blaze swept through explosively dry mountain timber in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest for a fourth day.

As of late Saturday, the Delta Fire had scorched more than 40,500 acres (16,839 hectares) in the Cascade range since erupting on Wednesday in a forest canyon along the Sacramento River, about 250 miles (402 km) north of San Francisco, fire officials said.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported, but the blaze has caused major travel disruptions. On Wednesday, flames raced across Interstate 5, chasing a number of truckers from their vehicles before flames engulfed their abandoned rigs.

A 45-mile (72-km) stretch of the I-5, a key north-south route through the entire state, has remained closed since then, requiring traffic detours of up to 120 miles (193 km).

Although containment of the blaze, a measure of the progress made in carving buffers around the fire’s perimeter to halt its spread, remained at zero, crews have made gains clearing away tinder-dry brush beyond its leading edge.

Firefighters were using natural barriers like roadways and ridges to set up control lines, which will allow them to burn away fuel ahead of the wildfire to slow its growth, Captain Brandon Vaccaro, a spokesman for the Delta fire incident command, said.

Smoke rises as the large fire spread along Pope Valley in California, U.S., September 8, 2018 in this picture obtained on September 8, 2018 from social media. Craig Philpott/via REUTERS

Smoke rises as the large fire spread along Pope Valley in California, U.S., September 8, 2018 in this picture obtained on September 8, 2018 from social media. Craig Philpott/via REUTERS

“The topography here is very steep, with a lot of canyons and valleys that make it very difficult for firefighters to work,” he said.

Much of the effort has also focused on protecting scattered homes and small communities in the sparsely populated fire zone. Two single-family homes have been destroyed, and two other buildings damaged, Vaccaro said.

Approximately 150 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Shasta and Trinity counties, Vaccaro said. Farther north, an evacuation warning was in effect for the town of Dunsmuir, advising some 1,600 residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity arrived overnight on Friday, providing a bit of a respite from the scorching weather that has hampered firefighting this week.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland said temperatures are expected to slowly drop from a high of 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.6°C) Sunday to a high of 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28.3°C) by Tuesday.

Shasta County communities are still recovering from a devastating blaze this summer that killed eight people and incinerated hundreds of dwellings in and around Redding.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Alexander Smith and Diane Craft)

Fast-growing Northern California wildfire forces evacuations

Flames engulf trees along interstate 5 in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest as a tractor trailer drives by north of Redding, California, U.S., September 5, 2018. Courtesy U.S. Forest Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire erupted in forest land in Northern California on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of dozens of homes and the closure of a stretch of an interstate highway near where a deadly blaze broke out in July, officials said.

The Delta Fire was burning in timber and brush in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in a canyon along the Sacramento River.

It was near the site of the Carr Fire, which led to eight deaths and destroyed hundreds of homes in the city of Redding and nearby areas.

Wildfires in California have scorched far more ground this year than in 2017, one of the most destructive in the state’s history.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to 4,587 fires that have destroyed 613,710 acres (248,359 hectares), compared with 4,425 fires that destroyed 233,936 acres (94,671 hectares) through the same period in 2017, according to figures from the agency

The latest fire spread to 2,000 acres (809 hectares) by Wednesday evening, forcing the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate residents along a stretch of Interstate 5 north of the town of Lakehead to the Siskiyou County line, according to the government wildfire tracking website Inciweb.

“It’s not in the middle of a town, but there are some rural residences” in the area, Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman Carol Underhill said.

A representative from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office could no immediately be reached for comment.

The Delta Fire was burning on both sides of Interstate 5, which has made it more difficult to control the flames, Underhill said. The highway has been closed in both directions in that area.

Firefighters have not been able to build any containment lines against the fast-moving blaze, officials with the Shasta-Trinity National Forest said on Twitter.

Photos posted online by the U.S. Forest Service showed bright orange flames in a forest just beyond a truck on a highway, and broad columns of white smoke rising above forests.

The fire broke out at mid-day on Wednesday near an exit from Interstate 5, about 30 miles (48 km) north of Redding. Its cause was under investigation.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Massive wildfire rages after becoming largest in California’s history

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California’s biggest wildfire on record raged on Tuesday as hot and windy conditions challenged thousands of fire crews battling eight major blazes burning out of control across the state.

The Mendocino Complex grew to span 283,000 acres (114,526 hectares) on Monday when two wildfires merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

It is the largest of eight major fires burning out of control across California, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a “major disaster” in the state.

The size of the fire has surpassed that of last year’s Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties when it destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

The Mendocino Complex has burned 75 homes and forced thousands to be evacuated.

Temperatures could reach 110 degrees (43 Celsius) in Northern California over the next few days with gusty winds fanning the flames of the complex, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

The 3,900 crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

Elsewhere in California, evacuations were ordered for cabins in Cleveland National Forest canyons in Orange County on Monday afternoon after a blaze broke out and quickly spread to span 700 acres (283 hectares).

The Carr Fire – which has torched 164,413 acres in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento since breaking out on July 23 – was 47 percent contained.

The Carr Fire has been blamed for seven deaths, including a 21-year-old Pacific Gas and Electric Company lineman Jay Ayeta, whom the company said on Sunday was killed in a vehicle crash as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain.

“California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet but said crews did not lack water to fight the flames.

Environmental activists and some politicians say the intensity of the state’s wildfire season could be linked in part to climate change.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)