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A wildfire in Northern California forces the evacuation of more than 26,000 people

A wildfire in Northern California forces the evacuation of more than 26,000 people

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters lined roads to keep flames from reaching homes as helicopters dropped water on a growing wildfire Wednesday in Northern California that has forced the evacuation of at least 26,000 people as the state swelters in the heat. extreme heat.

The Thompson Fire broke out before noon Tuesday about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Sacramento near the town of Oroville in Butte County. It sent up a massive plume of smoke that could be seen from space As the area expanded to over 14 square kilometers, there was no way to contain it.

But Oroville Mayor David Pittman said there had been a “significant decrease in fire activity” by Wednesday afternoon and he was hopeful some residents would soon be allowed to return to their homes. The fire’s progress had stopped along the southern edge and firefighters working in steep terrain were trying to build containment lines on the north side.

“On that north side they have some real problems in terms of the topography,” Pittman said.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), there were more than a dozen fires, most of them small, burning across the state. A new blaze on Wednesday afternoon prompted a small number of evacuations in densely populated Simi Valley, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The state’s largest fire, the Basin Fire, covered nearly 22 square miles (57 square kilometers) of the Sierra National Forest in eastern Fresno County and was 26% contained.

In Oroville, a state of emergency A state of emergency was declared Tuesday night and evacuation centers were set up. The evacuation zone was expanded Wednesday to the hills and rural areas beyond the city, home to about 20,000 people. With the Fourth of July in mind, officials also warned that fireworks are banned in many places, including most of Butte County.

There was no immediate official report of property damage. An Associated Press photographer saw the fire burning three adjacent suburban-style homes in Oroville.

The fire ignited sprigs of grass that protruded from the concrete edges. Lake Oroville as strong winds fluttered American flags lining a bend in the state’s second-largest reservoir and the tallest dam in the country.

Residents stayed on hillsides overnight, watching the orange glow, as planes dropped water to stop the fire from spreading. A team of more than a dozen firefighters saved one home as goats and other farm animals ran for safety.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. At the time of the fire, critical weather warnings were in effect for strong northerly winds and low humidity levels.

Warnings were expected to remain in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday, said Garrett Sjolund, chief of Cal Fire’s Butte County unit.

“The conditions in our county this summer are very different than what we have experienced the last two summers,” Sjolund said in an online briefing. “The fuels are very dense, the brush is dry, and as you can see, any wind can extinguish a fire very quickly.”

The conditions prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to implement specific measures power outages for public safety reasons in parts of some Northern California counties to prevent fires due to downed or damaged power lines.

The National Weather Service announced that more high temperatures above 100 degrees (37.8 degrees Celsius) were forecast for Wednesday. Warm conditions are expected to continue through next week.

Authorities have warned of full legal consequences for any illegal use of fireworks during the July 4 holiday.

“Don’t be an idiot, don’t start a fire and create more problems for us,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea. “Nobody in the community is going to want that. And we definitely don’t want that.”

The governor’s office announced Tuesday evening that federal funding had been approved to assist with firefighting efforts. Gov. Gavin Newsom this week activated the State Operations Center to coordinate California’s response, dispatch mutual aid and support communities in their response to wildfire and excessive heat threats.

In Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park officials closed Covington Flats, an area with most of the park’s significant Joshua tree populations, on Wednesday due to extreme fire risk after spring rains led to abundant grass that has now dried out. A fire in June 2023 burned 1.6 square miles (4.14 square kilometers) of Joshua trees and desert tortoise habitat.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Garrett Sjolund’s first name. It is Garrett, not Garret.

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Antczak reported from Los Angeles.