Flames roared through a national forest on the far northern end of California on Tuesday, prompting the evacuation of nearby residents.
The fire inside Klamath National Forest started Monday night near Slater Butte Lookout — about 330 miles northwest of Sacramento — and by Tuesday night the size of the fire had grown to 22,000 acres, Klamath National Forest officials said.
There are no permanent structures immediately around Slater Butte Lookout, popular for hunting and fishing, but flames were headed toward homes in the nearby town of Happy Camp, authorities said earlier.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has ordered everyone in the small community to leave. Undersheriff Karl G. Houtman told NBC News the area has dealt with wildfires in the past, but nothing like this. “I can’t ever recall evacuating an entire town,” Houtman said.
The sheriff’s office was attempting to help 1,200 people evacuate. While some structures have been damaged, Houtman said, no homes had been lost yet.
National, state and local firefighters are fighting flames in harsh conditions, with temperatures expected to hit 102 degrees and winds gusting up to 25 mph.
“You can see flames on the ridge, it’s just nuts,” Happy Camp resident Ryan Mitchell said shortly after noon, estimating he was about a mile from the fire. “I can see the flames right now, and it’s crispy.”
Many residents in the town of a little more than 1,000 people own horses, chickens, sheep and cows. Mitchell, 26, fears some might not be able to pack up their animals before the fast-moving fire arrives.
“We’re not going to have time, that thing is hauling ass down the hill. It’s bad,” Mitchell said. “You can feel the heat in the meadows, you can feel the 10- or 15-degrees change, you can feel it.”
The Slater Fire is among dozens of blazes bedeviling first responders across California.
In Oregon, a fire that burned from the Ashland area entered the city of Medford, population around 85,000, officials said.
“The Alameda Fire did enter into the City of Medford,” city communications and marketing manager Kristina Johnsen said in an email late Tuesday.
“While we know we’ve lost structures within City limits, at this time we do not have a number of impacted residents as this fire has moved from Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford,” she said.
There were evacuation orders telling people to either leave or be ready to do so as of 11 p.m. in Medford, and the orders at that time affected around 16,000 residents, Johnsen said. Firefighters from multiple agencies would be working throughout the night, she said.
All businesses and residents in the city of Phoenix, which is southeast of Medford and has around 4,500 residents, were ordered to evacuate, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said earlier.
“We’re in an unprecedented fire event” with several growing fires across the state, fueled by hot weather and dry winds, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted. She expanded emergency conflagration declarations, which allow for state aid, to include the Alameda Fire in Jackson County.
“Oregonians’ lives are at risk. Follow evacuation orders, try to reduce your smoke exposure — and take care of each other,” Brown said.
Nearly 14,000 firefighters were battling 25 wildfires across California, according to the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In another fire, the Dolan Fire in Los Padres National Forest on the coast south of Salinas, 14 firefighters sheltered Tuesday morning and suffered injuries ranging from burns to smoke inhalation, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Three were flown to a hospital; one was described as in critical condition and two were listed as being in fair condition. The Dolan Fire has burned 73,000 acres and was 40 percent contained Tuesday afternoon.
In the Creek Fire, burning in California’s Sierra National Forest, 52 people were transported by helicopter from the fire zone, officials said. More than 143,000 acres have burned and the fire was zero percent contained Tuesday afternoon, according to the state’s wildfire firefighting agency.
So far this year more than 2.2 million acres in the state has burned in wildfires, a record for the state with four more months to go in the fire season, the department, known as Cal Fire, said Tuesday morning.
More than 3,300 structures have been destroyed by the fires statewide, and eight deaths have been blamed on the blazes in California, according to Cal Fire.
There have been more than 7,600 wildfires in the state, including hundreds sparked by lightning in August.
In 2019, by this time last year there had been nearly 5,000 fires and around 118,000 acres burned, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
More than 42,000 people across California were still under evacuation orders Tuesday, the governor said.
In Oregon, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, Brown, the governor, said Tuesday at a news conference.
She issued an emergency conflagration declaration, which allows for state aid.
“We know we have at least another 24 hours of this wind to sustain. The hot and dry weather is only predicted to continue through the weekend,” Brown said.
“We know our losses are going to be great. But we know that Oregon is strong and will stand together,” she said.
More than 1,400 people held in custody at three state prisons in the Salem area were moved to the state penitentiary because of the threat from wildfires, the state Department of Corrections said.
Image: (Andrew Selsky / AP)
The city of Salem, the state’s capital, was not under an evacuation order, officials said. The Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires are burning east of the city.
Around 160 residents of the Marian Estates independent senior living center in Sublimity, southeast of Salem, evacuated to the Oregon State Fairgrounds, The Associated Press reported.
“It was pitch black dark out there — all you could see was red,” Wendy Phelps-Chapman, activity director at the center, told the news agency.