Summit Fire in California 40 percent contained, but forecast causes concern

The so-called Summit Fire is one of at least 680 wildfires that state firefighters have responded to this year in California – 200 more than the average for the period. Conditions are dry, warm, and windy.

Richard Lui/The Desert Sun/AP
A US Forest Service crew conducts a back burn to stop a wildfire burning on Wednesday, in Banning, Calif.

Firefighters partially contained a southern California brush fire Wednesday night, but state fire officials worry it will spread faster Thursday because of forecasted 90-degree temperatures and 50-mile-per-hour winds.

The so-called Summit Fire, which has destroyed one home and left two firefighters with minor injuries, broke out about noon on Wednesday. Fire officials evacuated about 500 residents in Banning, Calif., located 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The fire burned roughly 3,000 acres, and firefighters had contained 40 percent as of Thursday morning.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) issued statewide warnings for “extreme fire danger” Wednesday, as a dry winter, warm temperatures, and high winds have created model wildfire conditions.

“The grass, brush, and trees are very volatile. They’re ready to burn,” CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson said. “Everything is just very dry. And not just in southern California, statewide.”

The agency has responded to more than 680 wildfires this year, 200 more than the average for the period, CAL FIRE told the Los Angeles Times.

Low rainfall levels from January to April could create one of the driest years on record in California, according to a survey by the Department of Water Resources. The snowpack is only 52 percent of the statewide average.

“We’re a bit drier than normal at this time and seeing conditions that we would usually see in June,” state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. “If this is an indicator of what’s to come, then we’re going to be in for a very busy fire season.”

Winds at the fire site north of Banning increased Thursday morning, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said. Crews made progress on the 4-1/2-square-mile blaze overnight, but the winds could change that.

“That’s our fear,” Ms. Hutchinson told the Los Angeles Times. “I think we’re making progress, but we still have a whole lot of open line we have to be concerned with.”

More than 670 firefighters were on the scene Thursday morning, according to CAL FIRE.

Joe Kiener, the man who lost his home Wednesday in the fire, told the Associated Press that he was at home on his lunch break when fire officials told him to evacuate.

“When I left, I went around the corner and I got engulfed in a big cloud of smoke,” Mr. Kiener said. The deputy had to yell to him how to get out because he could barely see through the smoke.

His neighbor sent him a photo of the house later in the day, and he knew it would be lost. He had lived there since the 1970s, when his mother bought the house.

“My mom passed away a month ago, the day before Easter,” Kiener said. “So that was the biggest thing that hurt my heart is losing her. Losing the house is just minimal. We can rebuild.”

He told KTLA 5 in Los Angeles that he was “just trying to pick up the pieces and keep on going.”

Wind-fueled fires also have hit northern California, CBS reports. In Sonoma County, the so-called Yellow Fire was 50 percent contained after burning 125 acres, and in Napa County a fire was fully contained after burning 75 acres.

“Statewide, our fire activity is up over 60 percent of normal,” said Mr. Berlant of CAL FIRE. “It has everything to do with the fact that conditions are so dry, then you add wind, making the perfect conditions for a fire.”

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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