Natural disasters

State of emergency declared as northern California wildfire threatens hundreds of homes

The Pawnee fire north of Napa has burned 8,200 acres and destroyed 22 structures, but its origin remains a mystery

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 5:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 5:40am

Scores of residents remained under evacuation orders Monday morning after a wind-driven wildfire ripped across thousands of acres of brush in northern California, authorities said.

The Pawnee fire, which is threatening 600 homes and structures in Spring Valley, started late Saturday afternoon northeast of Clearlake Oaks, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

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The blaze in Lake County has scorched 8,200 acres, and there was no containment as of Monday morning. Twenty-two structures have been destroyed, many of those in sparsely populated patches of land outside of suburban neighbourhoods, officials said.

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Lake County due to the fire. The declaration cuts through bureaucratic red tape to free up resources faster and enables the county to recover some of the costs of fighting the fire.

The blaze is being fed by erratic winds, low humidity and above average temperatures that have left the parched brush and vegetation vulnerable to fast-moving flames. The fire is about 70 miles north of Napa.

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“The fuels over the last five years – even though we had a wet winter a year ago – the fuels are still very dry and very drought stressed,” said Jordan Motta, a captain with Cal Fire. “This fire is an example.”

Lake County has been repeatedly hit by fires in recent years. More than 150 homes were destroyed in October when multiple brush fires broke out in northern California’s wine country and communities to its north.

In 2015, more than 500 homes were destroyed in the Valley fire, which injured four firefighters and burned 76,000 acres.

On Sunday, the state Office of Emergency Services announced it has secured federal dollars to help pull in additional resources to fight the Pawnee fire as needed. More than 230 firefighters are battling the blaze along with two water-dropping helicopters.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.