Smoke and flames are visible from the community of Spring Valley in Lake County on June 25, 2018. Spring Valley was ordered to evacuate on Sunday, as firefighters battled the Pawnee Fire. (Sukey Lewis/KQED)
Updated: June 25, 3:50 p.m.
Hundreds of Northern California homes and businesses were threatened Monday after wind-driven wildfires broke out over the weekend, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes throughout rural regions in Northern California. Of the 90 wildfires ignited over the weekend, 47 were in the northern part of the state, according to Cal Fire.
The largest blaze, the Pawnee Fire in Lake County, continued to resist containment Monday morning but there were no reports of injuries or deaths, said California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
About 1,300 to 1,500 residents have evacuated two subdivisions in Lake County, according to officials. Authorities also ordered residents to evacuate in Tehama County, where two wildfires were burning and had destroyed multiple homes and businesses in the city of Red Bluff. Residents also fled a wildfire in Shasta County.
No cause has been determined for any of the fires.
The Pawnee Fire, which broke out Saturday near the small community of Clearlake Oaks in Lake County, has destroyed 22 buildings and threatens an additional 600. As of Monday morning, Cal Fire said the fire had grown to 8,200 acres, more than quadruple its size from the day before, with no containment.
Authorities ordered people to evacuate all homes in the residential area of Spring Valley and surrounding areas. An evacuation center has been set up at Lower Lake High School, and an animal staging area is located at Social Service Center, 15975 Anderson Ranch Parkway in Lower Lake. The Lake County Sheriff's Office website has the latest evacuation information.
No injuries have been reported.
"What we're stressing is that people, when they get the evacuation order, they heed it immediately and get out and stay out until it is safe to return," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox.
"This is one of four large fires burning in Northern California. It's a good reminder that fire season is upon us," he said.
According to KQED reporter Sukey Lewis, about 300 people are also staying at the Moose Lodge, an informal evacuation spot where families are camped out in cots and in tents. The lodge has opened its doors to evacuees each of the last few years because of fires.
“This is our fourth rodeo," said Dennis Alexander, governor of the Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge. "We’re trying to facilitate a safe haven for the fire victims."
Charles Valdez and his girlfriend, Lois Savin, are staying there with their blue and gold macaw. Their home is one of the 22 structures that burned down in the Pawnee Fire and they evacuated a little after midnight.
“We left when the flames were pretty close, coming over the hill at us. We grabbed our bird, a few belongings and got out," said Valdez.
“I’m just tired," he said. The couple also had to evacuate in 2016 when the Clayton Fire torched about 300 homes in the area. Lake County has seen a number of fires over the last four years. "I understand they’re going to change the name of Lake County to Flame County. It’s hard, but you know, life goes on.”
Amy Head, who’s a Cal Fire captain and spokeswoman, noted a fire this size is slightly abnormal for this early in the summer. "It's a bit worrisome to see a fire burn the way that it did for the time of year, for June. The numbers are sort of lining up similar to last year, which was, as everyone knows, the worst fire season in the history of California. So it could be a very long, hard fire season for us," she said.
Farther north, the Stoll Fire in Tehama County has been 60 percent contained and has gone down from 500 acres to 300 acres, as of Monday morning. The fire destroyed "multiple residential and commercial buildings," Cal Fire said. Some evacuees were allowed to return home, authorities said.
A second fire in Tehama County, the Lane Fire, also consumed 3,000 acres, but no buildings were reported burned. Some 200 structures were threatened and some homes had been evacuated, Cox said, although he did not have specific numbers. It was 20 percent contained as of 6 a.m. Monday morning.
The Creek fire in neighboring Shasta County was at 1,300 acres and was 30 percent contained Monday morning.
The cause of the fires are under investigation by Cal Fire's arson investigation unit.
There were also a number of smaller blazes burning throughout the region over the weekend, causing smoke to blow across the state.
Erratic winds, low humidity and high temperatures were driving a number of the fires. "We knew that there was a red flag warning in effect and we knew what area it was in, which was in a good portion of the central, northern valley of California," said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff.
At the Pawnee Fire, firefighters battled in a rugged area that also made it difficult to get engines and other equipment up close. "It's kind of the worst possible combination," said Cox.
Weather is expected to improve Monday, making firefighting efforts easier.
Matthew Henderson, who was in the area of the Pawnee Fire taking photographs, said he saw the fire jump a road at one point, briefly cutting off access to part of Spring Valley until firefighters pushed it back.
More than 230 firefighters using 32 fire engines, two helicopters, seven bulldozers and other equipment were battling the blaze as of Monday afternoon. Cal Fire efforts continued at the four major fires, with the majority of resources going to the Pawnee Fire.