Officials in San Diego County ordered fresh evacuations in areas threatened by the Valley Fire.
FRESNO, Calif. – Heavy winds sweeping across the West fueled fast-growing wildfires and forced mass evacuations as firefighters battled gamely to protect lives, homes and businesses.
Northern and Central California was again under siege Wednesday as Diablo winds fanned the flames of roaring, historic fires burning virtually uncontrolled. Fifteen firefighters were injured after deploying emergency shelters as flames destroyed a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state’s central coast, the U.S. Forest Service said.
“These firefighters received injuries that included burns and smoke inhalation while defending the Dolan Firehouse in California’s National Forest,” said Incident Commander Rob Allen. Three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, and Allen said one suffered critical injuries and another serious injuries.
Fires were also blazing in Southern California, and the state has seen a record 3,600 square miles this year with several weeks of prime fire season ahead. Strong winds were also driving wildfires in Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
California ablaze:Striking satellite imagery shows how the fires are unfolding
In Oregon, a series of fires forced residents to flee flames, smoke and destruction. In Marion County, a Detroit evacuee wondered what she and neighbors had left behind as she raced from the inferno.
“Fire on both sides, winds blowing, ash flying. It was like driving through hell,” Detroit evacuee Jody Evans told NewsChannel 21. “Did you lose everything, or is the only thing you saved yourself?”
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest:
In Oregon, almost 100,000 homes and businesses were without power Wednesday. Crews battled large fires in Clackamas County on Tuesday and some evacuations were ordered.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved an emergency “conflagration” order freeing up state resources for several wildfires that exceed the capabilities of local crews. She said initial reports show some blazes may have been caused by downed power lines.
“This is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state, and frankly for the entire West Coast,” Brown said.
Fires continued to roar across parts of Washington state. Hundreds of residents have been ordered to evacuate this week. More than 500 square miles burned Monday alone, Gov. Jay Inslee said. That’s more in a single day than 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons, he said.
“It’s an unprecedented and heart-breaking event,” Inslee said, blaming heat, high winds and low humidity for the explosive growth of fires. ”The list of fires is long.”
One positive note: Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said there appeared to be no deaths or serious injuries in the state.
Helicopters have rescued hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes, and 5,000 structures were threatened, fire officials said. Flames threatened the foothill community of Auberry between Shaver Lake and Fresno.
Isaac Rodriguez of San Diego was among those airlifted to safety. Rodriguez and a group of friends went backpacking above Shaver Lake and planned to camp. When things got hot, Rodriguez took refuge at Lake Edison’s Vermilion Valley Resort and waited for help.
“The day we started backpacking, we didn’t know there was a fire,” Rodriguez said. “They took care of us pretty well there. … We knew we couldn’t get out.”
In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, and the forecast called for the arrival of the region’s notorious Santa Anas. The hot, dry winds could reach 50 mph at times, forecasters said. Residents of foothill communities east of Los Angeles were being told to stay alert because of a fire in the Angeles National Forest.
“The combination of gusty winds, very dry air, and dry vegetation will create critical fire danger,” the National Weather Service warned.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia. Contributing: Sheyanne N. Romero, Visalia Times-Delta; The Associated Press
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