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Latest California Fire Forces Thousands to Evacuate Sierra Foothills Town of Copperopolis

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An air tanker drops retardant while battling the Aero Fire in the Copperopolis community of Calaveras County, California, on Monday, June 17, 2024.  (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

Updated 11:45 a.m. Tuesday

The latest in a string of California wildfires has spread rapidly in Calaveras County, burning more than 5,400 acres, forcing highway closures and evacuations, and destroying three structures halfway between Stockton and Yosemite.

The Aero Fire started around 3:20 p.m. Monday near the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Copperopolis, and it was quickly driven south by strong winds throughout the evening, according to Stacey Nolan, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The rapid spread forced the evacuation of all of Copperopolis, which is home to about 3,400 people. Parts of Highway 4, which connects Copperopolis to Stockton in the westbound direction, were closed while fire crews worked to contain the blaze.


The fire was 20% contained as of Tuesday morning, and mild wind conditions projected for much of the day should help fire crews make further progress, Nolan said. Cal Fire does not expect any additional evacuations on Tuesday, but all current evacuation orders and the highway closures will remain in place.

“It’s not going to be as windy as it was yesterday, so that will help the firefighters gain access to more of — if there are any — the little fires. They won’t be rushing through the grasses,” Nolan said.

Wind gusts on Monday reached speeds up to 26 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Tuesday’s winds are expected to peak around 7 mph in the evening.

The cause of the mixed vegetation fire is still under investigation.

The blaze brings the number of active fires burning throughout California to 14, according to Cal Fire, as gusty winds in recent days pushed flames through heavy grass and brush that grew during back-to-back wet winters. It has burned grass, brush and oak woodlands, similar to the Point Fire in Sonoma County, which started Sunday and has burned over 1,200 acres.

That fire led to some smoke in the Bay Area, but it has mostly diminished, National Weather Service meteorologist Alexis Clouser said. Smoke from another wildfire that broke out Monday afternoon, the 10,000-acre Sites Fire in Colusa County, is expected to drift into the Bay Area on Tuesday, but Clouser said it remains aloft and isn’t seriously affecting surface visibility or air quality.

“Later this afternoon, as the winds shift to become more onshore and more westerly, we should start to see some of that smoke clear out. So the skies should look a little bit clearer overall into the afternoon and evening,” Clouser said.

The smoke spurred an advisory from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District through Wednesday, warning that air quality in the North Bay could reach unhealthy levels for sensitive groups, with hazy skies and the smell of smoke possible.

KQED’s Sara Hossaini contributed to this report.

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