Click the arrow below for more coverage of the Mill Fire burning in Northern California.
A pair of wildfires burned relentlessly through Siskiyou County early Saturday, with one destroying much of a historically Black neighborhood in the city of Weed and the other chewing through heavy timberland to the west.
The Mill Fire, which prompted the evacuation of Weed and smaller communities to the north, had grown to 3,921 acres with 20% containment, said Cal Fire spokesman Robert Foxworthy.
Weed Mayor Kim Greene said Saturday morning that most of the damage she is aware of was in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood and Lake Shastina, with reports of 100 homes destroyed in Lincoln Heights.
“They seem to have been hit the worst,” Greene said. “From the map I saw last night, it looks like the majority of the homes in Lincoln Heights are gone. We’re just trying to assess that right now.”
Cal Fire Siskiyou Unit Chief Phil Anzo gave the Associated Press the same estimate, adding that crews worked all day and night to protect structures in Weed and in Carrick, a subdivision to the east.
“There’s a lot at stake on that Mill Fire,” he said. “There’s a lot of communities, a lot of homes there.”
Two people were taken to Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta, according to the AP. One was in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center’s burn unit in Sacramento.
Mountain Fire burning in rugged terrain
Meanwhile, the Mountain Fire had grown to 3,395 acres in a wooded, mountainous area west of Yreka early Saturday, according to Cal Fire.
In the town of Gazelle, Colleen Brown and her husband, Steve, had a long Friday night. She said they watched “dozer after dozer after dozer” hauled behind big rigs head up the hill towards the Mountain Fire, burning on the hills west of town. They could see trees catching fire on the hillside.
“You could see the orange glow,” she said. “We were very nervous last night.”
The fire was 5% contained, crews said.
As a giant plume builds to the west Saturday morning, she said they would be ready to leave at a moment’s notice if the wind starts blowing the fire towards Gazelle.
In the sparsely populated hills west of Gazelle, dozens of bulldozers, fire trucks and other heavy equipment were parked on a private ranch property gearing up for the pending afternoon firefight as planes and helicopters flew overhead already attacking the fire from the sky.
The few homes along the Gazelle-Callahan Road west of Gazelle appeared to have survived the fire. Further west along the curving country road, the fire had burned Friday through pines, cedars and firs on both sides of the road.
Govt. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency late Friday for Siskiyou County — which was barely starting to recover from last month’s McKinney Fire, which killed four people in the community of Klamath River — and announced that the state had secured a FEMA grant to help pay for firefighting efforts.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office reduced some evacuation zones, but mandatory orders remained in zones SIS-2215, SIS-2218, SIS-2126, SIS-2334, SIS-2337, SIS-3704, SIS-3707, SIS-5102-A, SIS-5102-B, and SIS-5203 for the fires.
Lake Shastina remains evacuated after “a very sad day for our community,” according to the Lake Shastina Fire Department.
“The Mill Fire did burn well into the Lake Shastina housing district with numerous structures lost,” Fire Chief Steven Pappas said in an update. “We do not have an exact number of homes that were lost at this time nor can I provide you with specific streets that have been impacted. The fire came into the district from the south end and has worked its way north.
“It still poses a significant risk to the homes that remain standing in the entire Lake Shastina community, and there is active fire still burning deep into our community.”
Fire officials estimated that repopulating the area of about 2,400 residents could take several days.
With much of California is suffering through an epic heat wave, the dueling blazes represented the latest chapter in what’s become a grim wildfire season in the far northern reaches of California. Along with the McKinney, a total of eight significant wildfires have burned in the area this year. The Six Rivers Lightning Complex, about 70 miles to the southwest in Trinity and Humboldt counties’ rugged hardwoods, was still burning after nearly a month.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Servicessaid firefighting teams were being deployed across 18 counties in preparation for other fires that could ignite during the mammoth heat wave.
“Fires can start very easily,” he said Saturday. The state is anticipating “a number of new fire starts.”
Chris Anthony, Cal Fire’s chief deputy director, added: “We’ve just started Labor Day weekend. The hottest and driest days are still ahead of us.”
Mill Fire quickly started, moved northwest
The Mill Fire, reported Friday afternoon, was believed to have started near the Roseburg Forest Products lumber mill, one of Weed’s largest employers, Mayor Kim Greene said Friday. The mill suffered extensive damage in the 2014 Boles Fire, and early Saturday one of its buildings was little more than a smoking pile of debris.
A Roseburg spokeswoman confirmed Friday that part of the company’s property had burned, but she said company officials didn’t know how or where the fire started.
Greene said she heard that the shed where the fire is believed to have started was part of an old section of the mill that was scheduled to be torn down.
Cal Fire’s Anthony said, “I can’t confirm the location of the start or the cause of the start.”
Fanned by south-to-north winds, the Mill Fire quickly moved beyond Weed and toward the community of Lake Shastina — but not before destroying much of Weed’s Lincoln Heights area, a small working-class district that had served as the heart of the Black community during Weed’s glory days as a lumber town.
When a Sacramento Bee reporter visited the neighborhood early Saturday, much of it was in ashes, as smoke lingered in the air. Pickups and other vehicles were charred, while some homes only had their chimneys standing.
As the fire moved north, nearby communities such as Carrick and Lake Shastina were ordered to be evacuated. It appeared that Carrick had mostly withstood the fire, but a Bee reporter witnessed at least five homes destroyed in a housing subdivision of Lake Shastina early Saturday. There did not appear to be active fire but firefighters were housing down cars that were bathed in pink fire retardant dropped from aircraft. The entire area was covered in a haze of smoke.
Highway 97, a main thoroughfare in the region, was closed for miles.
“It just seems like it never stops,” said Weed resident Scott Payne, 59, recalling the fires that had swept through the region in years past.
The sudden burst of fire and smoke in Weed Friday startled many residents, including Greene. “What I can see right now is just a lot of black smoke,” Weed’s mayor said as she stuffed belongings into her car.
Greene was at the city’s community center when she got word of the fire, and before long she saw air tankers flying overhead, preparing to drop water.
Shelly Burgess, who lives in the Angel Valley area of town not far from the Roseburg mill, said: “We looked out the window and saw a plume of smoke.”
She had gathered her grandchildren and other relatives and “we piled everybody in the car. … The high winds — you’ve got to move fast. You’ve got to get out of there fast. We’ve been through the Boles Fire.”
Greene said that the long-term recovery group set up after the 2014 Boles Fire has already begun working to help Weed recover, and that city officials have declared an emergency and plan to meet Saturday to discuss next steps.
The biggest challenge now is the lack of electricity, Greene said. “We haven’t had power, so right now I’m trying to coordinate a bunch of food from the grocery store to feed the evacuees.”
Pacific Power reported that roughly 8,000 homes and businesses remained without power from “scattered outages in Siskiyou County due to active wildfire.
“Crews working to restore service as quickly and safely as possible,” the utility said.
Greene, who packed her car Friday night in anticipation of having to flee, said she ended up not evacuating and that she is hopeful the threat to Weed may be passing.
“I feel like it but I haven’t got confirmation yet,” she said. “The fire is not out and so that’s always a concern with our crazy winds.”
The Bee’s Michael McGough contributed to this story.
This story was originally published September 3, 2022 8:20 AM.