California declares emergency as wildfires rage across west
Fires are burning in California, Oregon and Washington at an intensity officials call extreme.
Gov. Jerry Brown's order Saturday night came as fires in other West Coast states burned through parched forests, brush and terrain, destroying some homes, threatening many others and forcing evacuations.
In California, dry lightning, high temperatures and severe drought conditions exacerbated the fire danger as more than a dozen significant wildfires flared, some of which also damaged or destroyed dwellings and prompted residents to flee.
Brown's proclamation said that 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.
To that end, he secured a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California. The lightning-sparked Oregon Gulch fire destroyed at least 3 homes and was threatening about 270 structures on both sides of the border, authorities said.
By midnight Saturday, officials said the blaze had burned across 50 square miles of land, compared with 33 square miles earlier in the day.
Authorities on both sides of the border responded as the Oregon Gulch fire expanded. Oregon's Klamath County Sheriff's office and the sheriff in Siskiyou County both issued evacuation notices for some homes in rural regions, though it wasn't immediately clear how many residences were affected.
"Fire behavior for the Oregon Gulch Fire was extreme with rapid rates of spread," said a statement posted on the official wildfire incident website. "The fire has moved east, deeper into Klamath County."
Elsewhere, two more fires were reported in Central Oregon, bringing the total to 30 fires reported in the past 24 hours, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said Saturday.
Further north, a freshly sparked wildfire in Washington state burned down six to eight homes. Dramatic scenes played out overnight as residents tried to keep the flames at bay, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.
"Some great saves were made. Unfortunately, not all the homes were saved," he said.
Downed trees blocked Highway 20, which was reopened Saturday morning after the Rising Eagle Fire calmed down overnight, Rogers said.
The Methow Valley wildfire near the much larger Carlton Complex of fires has grown to between 400 and 600 acres, fire spokesman Andy Lyon said.
The Carlton Complex has burned an area of about 395 square miles and destroyed about 300 homes. As of Saturday morning, it was 81 percent contained.
About 200 homes are under an evacuation order from the Rising Eagle Road Fire burning in a wooded area with homes scattered throughout.
In California, the scope and intensity of the blazes was comparable to the fire activity the state normally sees in September, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said.
"This is unusual in terms of where we are in the fire season," he said. "The fire conditions are extreme and when you add dry lightning, it's a recipe for disaster."
The fires were burning as far south as the Sierra National Forest, about 70 miles from where another blaze sparked evacuations in and around Yosemite National Park earlier in the week.
One of the most dangerous California blazes was burning in Modoc County near the community of Day, where about 150 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order. It has burned nearly 20 square miles, and was only 20 percent contained.