REDDING, Calif. — Damage assessment teams went out Saturday to determine how many buildings have burned in a forest fire that has displaced thousands of residents in Northern California.
Firefighters working in steep, drought-stricken terrain hope calmer weather over the next few days will help as they battle the Fawn Fire north of the city of Redding.
“We’ve gotten fortunate in the last day or so,” fire spokesman Scott Ross said. “The winds have kind of lessened, and we’re able to get in there and get a lot of work done.”
Temperatures also were dropping, with rain expected to start Monday, officials said.
Initial assessments found that at least 100 homes and other buildings had burned, officials said. But that number was likely to change as teams go street by street surveying the destruction in the Mountain Gate area. It wasn’t immediately known when the damage assessment would be completed.
At least 9,000 structures still were threatened, Ross said.
Authorities have arrested a 30-year-old woman on suspicion of starting the blaze that erupted Wednesday and grew explosively in hot and gusty weather in the region about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco. Alexandra Souverneva was charged Friday with felony arson to wildland with an enhancement because of California’s declared state of emergency, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said.
Bridgett said that the Palo Alto woman is also being investigated to see if she’s started other fires in Shasta County and throughout the state. It wasn’t immediately known if she had an attorney who could speak on her behalf. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Fawn Fire has charred nearly 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) of heavy timber and was 10% contained.
Nearly 2,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders, and an additional 7,400 were warned to be ready to leave if necessary, the California Highway Patrol said.
It’s the latest destructive blaze to send Californians fleeing this year. Fires have burned more than 3,600 square miles (9,324 square kilometers) so far in 2021, destroying more than 3,200 homes, commercial properties, and other structures. Those fires include a pair of enormous forest blazes that have been burning for more than two weeks in the heart of giant sequoia country on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. By Saturday, more than 1,700 firefighters battled the KNP Complex Fires, which covered nearly 66 square miles (171 square kilometers).
Nearby, the Windy Fire grew Friday significantly, prompting new evacuations for rural communities. The blaze ignited by lightning on Sept. 9 has scorched 111 square miles (287 square kilometers) of trees and brush on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Sequoia National Forest. It was just 5% contained Saturday.
A historic drought in the American West tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.