26,000 Evacuate as Wildfire Spreads in Northern California

Fast-moving flames engulfed several homes and vehicles in Northern California as 26,000 people evacuated their homes this week, according to a local official, fleeing a wildfire that burned through a region scarred by previous blazes.

The official, Mayor David Pittman of Oroville, said emergency shelters in the region had filled up by Wednesday afternoon as the fire continued to spread. It had burned more than 3,000 acres by early Wednesday, officials said.

Oroville, where many of the residents were told to evacuate, is the seat of Butte County, about 20 miles south of Paradise, where 85 people were killed and nearly the entire town was destroyed six years ago in one of the worst wildfires in American history.

California’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, said that the wildfire began on Tuesday morning, and that its cause was under investigation. It was not clear how many structures had been damaged by the blaze, called the Thompson fire. No fatalities had been reported as of Wednesday morning.

Several state water facilities were affected by the evacuation orders, but there was no risk to Oroville Dam, which is the tallest dam in the United States, the California Department of Water Resources said on Tuesday night. Oroville, about 68 miles north of Sacramento, has a population of about 20,000 people.

The fire risk in Northern California has been made worse this week by low humidity and gusty winds, which can cause fires to rapidly spread. Red flag fire warnings, meaning that the risk for wildfires is heightened by weather conditions, were in place in more than a dozen counties on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There is also a dangerous heat wave in Northern California, with temperatures on Wednesday were expected to reach 110 and higher in cities including Sacramento, Chico and Redding. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning that affects most of Northern California, including Oroville.

Officials urged people to be extra cautious about using fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday. In Butte County, fireworks are illegal except in the cities of Oroville, Gridley and Biggs, where fireworks with a “safe and sane” seal can be used.

“The last thing we need is somebody who’s purchased fireworks from a local fire stand going out and doing something stupid,” Sheriff Kory Honea of Butte County said at a news conference late Tuesday. “Don’t be an idiot, cause a fire and create more problems for us.”

Sheriff Honea said that this was an especially bad fire season and noted that there had been several recent fires in the county.

Last week, residents of the town of Palermo were ordered to evacuate because of the Apache fire, which burned 691 acres and has been contained. The Junes fire started on June 15 and burned 1,056 acres before it was contained in three days. There were also two smaller fires last month: the Bar fire, which burned 36 acres, and the Rocky fire, which burned 18 acres.

Butte County was the site of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. The Camp fire in 2018 killed 85 people and destroyed more than 90 percent of the homes in Paradise.

Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s power utility, said on Monday that it may need to shut off power this week in some parts of Northern California, including Butte County, because of the increased fire risk. The utility shut off power to nearly 2,000 homes and businesses in eight counties on Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported, and was working quickly to restore it.

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