Wildfire in California scorches town and closes highway

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A wildfire in a small community in California has caused about half of the city to evacuate, has destroyed 150 structures, and has closed down roads in the area. Three people have been injured.

As of Wednesday, Sept. 17, Weed, Calif., located near Mount Shasta in Northern California, is still under evacuation orders after a wildfire destroyed 375 acres on Sept. 15, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Highway 97 remains closed from Interstate 5 to 10 miles north of Weed.

With a dozen agencies cooperating in the relief efforts, 969 fire personnel – including 72 fire engines, 20 fire crews, five helicopters, eight dozers and 10 water tenders – have reached 25 percent containment as of Wednesday morning. Currently, the cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.

Land Line spoke to Weed, Calif., resident and OOIDA Member Lawrence Vargo. According to Vargo, there are reports that a homeless man cooking a meal started the fire. Strong wind conditions took hold of the fire. Vargo noted he has friends and family who are now homeless because of the wildfire. The local high school and elementary school were also damaged, leaving kids out of school.

Vargo escaped devastation, but admitted current closures and conditions affect where he parks his vehicle. Water mains and power lines were damaged due to the intense heat. He acknowledged that the folks who live in that area are tough people, but are still unable to escape some of the unforgiving realities of nature.

“These are pretty hardy people. It’s hard to live here in the first place,” Vargo told Land Line. “Part of their routine life is feeling the harsh conditions. Lack of power and lack of water really has an effect.”

Within the same county of Siskiyou, the Happy Camp Complex wildfire has scorched 114,664 acres and is at 60 percent containment, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Incident Information System. NWCG is made up of the USDA Forest Service, four Department of the Interior agencies, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the California DOT, wildfires have caused the following road closures:

  • U.S. 50 from Pollock Pines to three miles east.
  • I-80 westbound traffic reduced to two lanes at Magazine Ave.
  • U.S. 97 from the junction of I-5 to 10 miles north of Weed.
  • S.R. 158 from one mile north to four miles north of the south junction of U.S. 395.

As of Sept. 17, approximately 6,500 firefighters are battling 11 major wildfires in the state of California, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 4,500 fires have occurred in California since the beginning of the year.

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