Mill Fire destroys homes, triggers widespread evacuations

WEED – Residents whose homes burned Friday in the mill fire in the northern California town of Weed described a the hell that tore the neighborhoods within minutes on Friday and took almost everything they had.

The catastrophic blaze, fueled by a punishing heat wave and gusty winds, soared to 3,921 acres on Saturday with 20% containment. About 4,000 firefighters have been deployed, with crews arriving throughout the night and scrambling to put out the rapidly moving blaze from homes and other structures.

As of Saturday morning, dozens of homes reduced to rubble by the intensity of the flames smoldered under a thick haze of smoke on either side of Highway 97 north of downtown Weed, cars and pickup trucks strewn everywhere, sitting on bare rims with their tires burned one way.

The blaze, believed to have started around a local lumber factory, quickly spread to nearby homes and sent large numbers of residents fleeing the heavily forested former logging town, which has about 2 800 inhabitants.

“I lost my house, my dogs, everything except what I had,” said Dave Rodgers, 59, who was about to take a shower on Friday when he saw smoke coming out of his window. bathroom.

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: Dave Rodgers, 59, tours the ruins of his home and neighborhood in Weed, Calif., on Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, after it was destroyed in yesterday’s fire. He lost everything, including two of his dogs. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

From his porch, Rodgers looked toward a local sawmill a quarter mile south, where the fire appeared to have started. He saw the fire coming over the hill, with sparks and ashes descending on his neighborhood: “It happened all of a sudden.”

The Mill Fire, the largest of a number of wildfires burn across California, comes as a sweltering statewide heat wave is expected to last much of Labor Day weekend. A few miles north of Weed, a second blaze, the Mountain Fire, has burned nearly 3,400 acres since Friday in the small community of Gazelle and prompted hundreds more evacuations.

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 2: The Mountain Fire burns late Friday evening, September 2, 2022, in the forest west of Weed, California, where another fire, the Mill Fire, tore through the town earlier, destroying dozens of houses.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 2: The Mountain Fire burns late Friday evening, September 2, 2022, in the forest west of Weed, California, where another fire, the Mill Fire, tore through the town earlier, destroying dozens of houses. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The exact number of people evacuated has not been announced, but a state emergency official said Saturday that at least 50 structures were destroyed in the blaze, and the number is expected to rise.

“We know that the fire in the town of Weed caused civilian injuries and power outages, impacted critical infrastructure, destroyed homes and of course caused the evacuation of thousands of people,” Mark said. Ghilarducci, director of the California governor’s emergency office. The services said at a news conference about the statewide heat conditions.

The the fire also closed a number of local roads and parts of U.S. Highway 97stretching from Weed to northern Washington State.

Cal Fire is investigating the cause of the factory fire, but several Weed residents said it appeared to have started in or near a sawmill owned by Roseburg Forest Products, a large private manufacturer of wood products. , right next to the city fire department and a group of residences. , as well as a local primary school.

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: A tangled pile of twisted metal is all that remains Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, of a Roseburg Forest Products building destroyed in yesterday's fire in Weed, Calif. (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)
WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: A tangled pile of twisted metal is all that remains Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, of a Roseburg Forest Products building destroyed yesterday in a mill fire in Weed, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Rodgers, a retired Weed town worker who has lived in town since he was two years old, jumped into one of his vehicles and sprang into action when he saw the mill burning. He first walked to the fire to help an 85-year-old woman who lived just up the hill and found another neighbor helping her off.

So Rodgers ran to another elderly woman’s house and told her to get ready to leave. Then he rushed home to retrieve his adopted Chihuahuas, TT and Xena, from the yard.

“I couldn’t get to the door,” he said. “The fire caught and I saw nothing.”

By the time he returned to pick up his elderly neighbor, her garage and patio were already on fire. And as they fled the neighborhood, “flames engulfed the truck and she started screaming”. The couple made it out alive.

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: The Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Weed, Calif., is a scene of devastation, Saturday, September 3, 2022, after being destroyed in yesterday's Miil Fire.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: The Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Weed, Calif., is a scene of devastation, Saturday, September 3, 2022, after being destroyed in yesterday’s Miil Fire. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Fortunately, the Mill Fire’s rapid growth still hadn’t reached the southern part of Weed, home to a number of downtown businesses, including the family-owned Mt. Shasta Brewing Company, where one owner confirmed that the surrounding area remained safe.

But the weather this weekend in Siskiyou County will not be forgiving. The area around which the factory fire is burning is expected to be slightly cooler on Saturday, but the next two days could bring highs of around 92 degrees with gusty winds that climb to 20 miles per hour.

“Simply put, fire weather will be elevated across much of Northern California given the hot, dry conditions,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle. “The biggest contributor to fire and its spread is the wind. These wind speeds could make the difference.

On Saturday morning, Rachel Thomas was driving around the edge of the community – surrounded by police tape – hoping to spot her dogs Chopper and Anika, who were in the house when the fire broke out.

She and her 15-year-old son, Keeshan Barton, lost virtually all of their belongings when flames destroyed their 14-year-old rented home in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Thomas, 42, held out hope that firefighters had arrived at the house before she burned down and opened a door, and ‘maybe the dogs could have gotten out’, she said .

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: Rachel Thomas returns to view the ruins of her home in Weed, California on Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, after it was destroyed by the mill fire.  She and her son are safe but they have lost everything, including their pets.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: Rachel Thomas returns to view the ruins of her home in Weed, California on Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, after it was destroyed by the mill fire. She and her son are safe but they have lost everything, including their pets. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

She has lived in Weed for 20 years, she said, and will now look for a new home in the area – as will many others whose homes have been burned down. But housing, she said, “was already scarce”.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency in Siskiyou County, noting that the fire was moving towards surrounding communities including Lake Shastina and Edgewood, which could force many more residents to evacuate. .

Attorney General Rob Bonta, meanwhile, issued a statement warning businesses not to raise prices for those fleeing emergency supplies like medical aid, food and gasoline. Friday’s evacuations coincided with heavy traffic across the state as travelers headed for Labor Day weekend plans.

Near the now flattened neighborhood of Lincoln Heights, Yvette Hoy returned from shopping with her husband on Friday afternoon to find their property on fire, flames leaping from her yard to the back of the house. Forty-five minutes earlier, there had been no fire in sight.

“I tell my husband, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! “, did she say. “And he says, ‘You go, I stay!'”

The couple operates hundreds of cattle and dozens of sheep, which escaped the fire with their three horses. But they lost a tractor and a hay baler, along with all the hay she had spent the summer cutting to feed the cattle over the coming winter months.

Gone is also their home and a lifetime of irreplaceable memories.

“The fireplace wasn’t even standing,” she said. “You leave the house with the clothes on your back and that’s all you have – in 45 minutes. How’s that? You see it on TV, but you never think it’s going to get you to arrive.

Writer Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.

WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: A tree continues to burn Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, near Shastina Lake in Weed, Calif., after the factory fire ripped through the area burning nearly 4,000 acres.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
WEED, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 3: A tree continues to burn Saturday morning, September 3, 2022, near Shastina Lake in Weed, Calif., after the factory fire ripped through the area burning nearly 4,000 acres. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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