Northern California firefighters still battling two wildfires amid high heat, winds

Twin fires in Northern California have burned 16 square miles


Mill Fire

Click the arrow below for more coverage of the Mill Fire burning in Northern California.

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Northern California firefighters were bracing for another scorching day Sunday as they battled the Mill and Mountain fires, which have burned 16 square miles, destroyed as many as 100 homes and still threaten hundreds more.

The Mill Fire, which began in the Siskiyou County community of Weed on Friday, had burned 4,254 acres and was 25% contained as of early Sunday, Cal Fire reported.

The blaze has injured at least three civilians, burned 50 structures and was threatening 411 others, Cal Fire says. At least 1,000 people have been told to evacuate.

Weed Mayor Kim Greene has said the damage may be greater, with reports of at least 100 homes destroyed, many of them in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Cal Fire says 132 structures “have been affected” and that ground crews will be working Sunday to inspect damaged areas to confirm actual losses.

“The fire currently has hose, hand line and dozer line in all areas around it,” said Kent Cunningham, a deputy operations official with Cal Fire, in a video briefing Sunday morning. “We’re continue to work to strengthen lines and mop up and keep the fire in its current footprint.”

Firefighters continue to work on the Mountain Fire in Siskiyou County, seen burning along Gazelle Callahan Road on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. The fire had burned 6,541 acres and was 5% containment, Cal Fire said in a Sunday morning update. Jonathan Rivas Special to The Bee

Mill fire map

This live-updating map shows the location of the Mill Fire, right, and the Mountain Fire, with satellite heat detection data for hot spots. Click on the legend button for more information.

Sources: U.S. Department of the Interior, IRWIN, NIFC, NASA, NOAA and Esri

On Sunday, firefighters in Siskiyou County turned their focus to the Mountain Fire, which began Friday afternoon 10 miles northwest of the Mill Fire and just outside of the community of Gazelle. Firefighters were working Sunday to secure lines around the fire’s north and west flanks, Cal Fire Capt. Matt Ryan said at an operational briefing.

That fire was at 6,541 acres and 5% containment. There were 690 structures threatened and 332 people evacuated.

Firefighters worried that winds that could push flames and blow embers onto the drought-plagued landscape. Temperatures were expected to climb into the mid-90s over the next two days — and up to 103 degrees by Tuesday.

On Sunday morning in Gazelle, where an evacuation warning remained in effect, Dawnia Deegan, 51, sat in her front yard with her sister and brother-in-law, Dania and Brian Landis, sipping coffee and watching convoys of fire trucks and heavy equipment head to and from the Mountain Fire, burning on the hills west of town.

She works at a gas station in Weed, but has been forced to stay home due to the power being out in that corner of the city.

The last two nights she’s been keeping an eye on the orange glow from the fire — and hoping for the best.

“We have our bags packed,” she said. “If they tell us we need to go, we will.”

Officials in Weed have said the Mill Fire began Friday in a warehouse in an unused portion of the Roseburg Forest Products mill that was scheduled for demolition, although officials at Cal Fire haven’t said how or where the fire started.

Rebecca Taylor, Roseburg’s spokeswoman, said Sunday that Cal Fire is investigating the mill property, and “we are cooperating fully in that investigation.”

On Sunday, two days after the fire prompted the frantic evacuation of Weed, wisps of smoke were still drifting up from the tangled girders and twisted sheet metal at the ruined warehouse. Crime scene tape had been strung across Railroad Avenue, which heads north toward the ruined Lincoln Heights neighborhood, just east of the mill property.

Debbie Cummins, who has lived on Alamo Avenue across the railroad tracks from the Roseburg property since 1988, said her neighborhood turned chaotic Friday when the big warehouse caught fire as the wind howled.

“I heard the popping sound and everything,” she said Saturday. “And then pretty soon the wind starts blowing, and the wind and the smoke and everything started going that way.” She pointed left, toward Highway 97 and Lincoln Heights.

A destroyed warehouse smolders Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, on Roseburg Forest Products property in Weed, Calif., one day after the Mill Fire burned through the adjacent Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Ryan Sabalow

City officials declared a state of emergency Saturday and were working to get food from a local grocery store to evacuees. Gov. Gavin Newsom also declared a state of emergency to help in the response effort.

Weed residents had been without power since Friday, but Pacific Power said that as of Saturday morning it had restored electricity to about 75% of its customers.

The utility said 2,697 customers remain without power and that crews may need up to 48 hours to get service turned back on.

A community meeting is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday at Big Springs Union Elementary School, 7405 County Highway A12 in Montague.

The Mill Fire is the second fire tragedy of the year in Siskiyou County, 3 1/2 hours from Sacramento along the Oregon border.

The McKinney Fire, which began July 29, killed four people in the community of Klamath River and burned 185 buildings.

This story was originally published September 4, 2022 8:20 AM.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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