A lightning-spawned firestorm that has burned 32,000 acres raged into its fourth day in Northern California on Tuesday, killing a firefighter, burning several structures and forcing scattered evacuations of residents.
Nearly 9,000 firefighters, reinforced during the day by others from throughout the nation, battled major blazes in the Stanislaus, Klamath and Shasta-Trinity national forests and nearly 300 smaller fires in virtually all the remaining Northern California forests, said Mike Milosch of the U.S. Forest Service in Sacramento.
Milosch, a spokesman for the joint California Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service information center, said firefighters have controlled about 700 other blazes ignited by nearly 5,000 lightning strikes since Saturday.
More Fires Expected
"We're probably going to get some more fires, with lightning activity expected to continue for a day or two," Milosch said.
It is the worst onslaught of its kind in California since the lightning-plagued summer of 1977, when the Marble-Cone fire in the Los Padres National Forest blackened nearly 200,000 acres, according to fire officials.
The federal and state firefighters are employing at least 48 air tankers, 296 fire engines, 31 helicopters and scores of bulldozers, officials said.
The battle claimed the life early Tuesday of a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, Bruce F. Visser, 34, of Mountain Center near San Bernardino, said Harley Greiman, a forest service spokesman in the Klamath National Forest.
Struck by Motorcycle
Visser was standing on a Klamath National Forest road being used as a fire line when he was hit by a motorcycle. The unidentified driver was under investigation in Siskiyou County for felony hit and run, Greiman said.
"Our hottest spot now is in southern Stanislaus National Forest," plagued by three uncontrolled fires of 3,000 to 4,000 acres each that have burned a home, a mobile home and two lookouts, Milosch said.
The blazes have caused closure of California 120, the northern access to Yosemite National Park, and the evacuations of about 10 homes in Harding Flats near the Gold Rush town of Groveland and of about 100 people in the community of Smith Station, he said.
The uncontrolled blaze 50 miles west of Yreka, in which the firefighter died, has blackened about 2,400 acres near Happy Camp but is not a major threat to the mountain community, Greiman said.
Like most of the blazes in Northern California, the fire is consuming valuable lumber-grade trees and scenic forest land, he said.
A second large fire in the Klamath forest, where 157 blazes have burned about 7,000 acres since Saturday, has scorched about 2,00 acres and has damaged a ranch home near the community of Forks of the Salmon, 40 to 50 miles south of Happy Camp, Greiman said.
In the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, an uncontrolled 4,000-acre fire has burned a vacant home and is threatening the small mountain community of Hyampom, about 25 miles west of Weaverville, the Trinity County seat, said Dave Bosch, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. Two evacuation centers have been set up, he added.
A second uncontrolled fire of 650 acres about 20 miles south of Weaverville is threatening Peanut, another small mountain community in the national forest, where 94 fires have burned 6,000 acres since Saturday.
Elsewhere, officials reported an uncontrolled 6,000-acre fire near Lake Isabella in the Sequoia National Forest, an uncontrolled 1,200-acre blaze that caused evacuation of 17 homes 15 miles west of Tehachapi and an uncontrolled 1,500-acre fire two miles southeast of Mammoth Village that has caused evacuation of an Inyo National Forest campground.