BURNEY (AP) – A pair of wildfires burning without restraint about 8 miles apart in northeast California became the focus of state and federal firefighters Sunday as authorities reported that one of the blazes had destroyed eight homes and prompted the precautionary evacuation of a small long-term care hospital.
The two fires, among 14 burning in the state, started within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest and had expanded into private property and scorched 90 square miles as of Sunday morning, up from 39 square miles a day earlier.
The more destructive of the two was threatening the town of Burney, where officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital decided to evacuate their 49-bed annex for patients with dementia and other conditions requiring skilled nursing. The patients were transferred to a hospital in Redding, about 55 miles away, the hospital reported on its website.
The Shasta County sheriff had Burney on an evacuation watch after ordering residents of three small neighboring communities to leave on Saturday night. Sgt. John Greene said the area is sparsely populated and that authorities did not yet know how many residents were affected or if the destroyed homes were vacation houses or permanent dwellings.
Evacuations also remained in effect for a community on the edge of the second fire, which was sparked by lightning Wednesday.
The two blazes were among 14 that federal, state and local fire crews were tackling on Sunday in central and Northern California, state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said. Together, they have consumed more than 183 square miles of timber and brush left parched by the state’s extended drought, Mathisen said, adding that the coming week promises not to be any easier.
“Today we are looking at slightly cooler temperatures, but Northern California continues to be hot and dry and breezy in some areas, and in fact we are looking at a fire weather watch going into effect Monday morning for a large portion of Northern and northeast California and possible thunderstorms, which could mean more lightning,” he said.
The number of fires led California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Saturday. His proclamation said the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat.
Siskiyou County, which borders Oregon, also was contending with two fires, both started by lightning last week. One of them, which began in Oregon, threatened hundreds of homes and charred 51 square miles in both states, including 14 square miles on the California side. It burned three homes and other structures, and evacuations remained in place for several neighborhoods in both states.
Federal fire officials said that along with working to protect homes, one of their priorities was to safeguard a water station that supplies the city of Yreka. Brown secured a federal grant to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight the blaze.
In Washington state, firefighters contained a wildfire that started Friday and burned six to eight homes.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.