As if meeting predictions for a fire-filled fall, crews battled several major forest fires across California on Friday – including one that has been linked to arson.
The Shasta County fawn fire lit Wednesday and quickly became a priority as it fed on dry wood and steep terrain, grew to 5,850 acres and displaced thousands of residents by Friday morning.
More than 9,000 buildings were threatened by the fire and at least 25 had already been destroyed, officials said. Evacuation orders and warnings remain.
The fire resulted in a local emergency declaration from Sheriff Michael Johnson as he spat massive clouds of smoke into the sky near Redding. Late Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state had received federal aid to help with the fire.
Unlike the lightning fires that burn elsewhere in the state, the fawn fire appears to have been set on purpose. A Palo Alto woman identified as Alexandra Souverneva was arrested Wednesday on “fire charges,” officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety said.
Firefighters first met Souverneva in the bushes near the budding fire at around 8 p.m. on Wednesday. A subsequent interview led officials to suspect she was responsible for the fire.
Shasta District Prosecutor’s Office on Friday brought charges of aggravated arson against Souverneva as well as committing arson during the state of emergency. The maximum sentence she faces is nine years in State Prison, Dist. Atty. said Stephanie Bridgett.
“The fire is apparently still burning and the investigation is ongoing and based on the final damage and outcome of that investigation, additional charges are likely,” added Bridgett, noting that Souverneva was involved in more fires in the county and state Could be linked.
Cal Fire incident spokesman Scott Ross said the alleged arson was “disheartening” but ultimately irrelevant to the frontline crews. “It’s a fire – we’re doing our job,” he said.
Camera footage near the fawn fire showed sickly orange-gray smoke rolling across the sky. Ross said Friday temperatures were expected in the mid-90s, but the winds eased and he was optimistic about crews’ progress. The fire was contained 10%.
“We’re still not out of the woods and want to make sure we’re keeping the progress we’ve made, but it’s looking pretty good,” he said, noting that nearly 1,000 people were up against the air and ground fought the fire.
Further south, the twin fires of the Windy Fire and the KNP Complex continued to threaten the state’s ancient sequoias and surrounding communities as they burned their way through a total of 86,000 acres with almost no containment.
The 56,802 acre windy fire that burns in Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Reservation has new evacuation orders for the communities of California Hot Springs, Pine Flat, Sugarloaf, Sugarloaf Mountain Park, Sugarloaf Saw Mill, White River, Idlewild, Posey on Friday , Panorama Heights, Poso, Balance Rock and Spear Creek. Residents are advised to leave home immediately and bring important belongings, medicines, and pets.
At Porterville College at 100 E. College Ave. A temporary evacuation point has been set up, officials said. You can find the latest evacuation card here.
Officials confirmed the fire affected several giant sequoia groves, including Peyrone, Red Hill, Cunningham and Long Meadow, but experts have yet to complete an assessment of the trees’ condition.
Although sequoias are among the most fire-adapted species on the planet, the castle fire extinguished an estimated 10% of their population last year after flames rose to their tops.
During an update of the incident Thursday evening, Operations Chief Seth Mitchell said the fire remained active on almost every edge of his perimeter and had been sighted in several areas via containment lines.
Much of the growth remains on the southern and eastern portions of the fire, where some embers jumped more than two miles, he said, but the crews have successfully steered the fire away from the Johnsondale parish.
The Windy fire containment decreased from 6% to 5% on Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the fire at the KNP complex, which burns in nearby Sequoia National Park, was no longer contained on Friday on 36,850 acres, officials said.
The Bakersfield Bureau of Land Management has issued an emergency closure of the Case Mountain area, including the Kaweah area and Milk Ranch Peak Wilderness in Tulare County, due to the fire. Evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect.
The fire continues to create hot spots in several areas, said operations director Jon Wallace, but controlled fire operations are helping to slow its spread.
“This fire, the KNP complex, is not getting on well at all from these fuel treatments,” Wallace said. “They were very effective at slowing down and stopping the spread of this fire.”
A fire operation between the southern edge of the fire and the nearby Three Rivers community on Thursday helped halt the flames in that direction, and another operation is likely on Friday between the fire line and the historic metallurgical communities of Mineral King, Silver City and Cabin Cove done, said Wallace.
KNP complex spokeswoman Katy Hooper said residents should also be warned that a controlled burn operation is likely to be conducted near Ash Mountain on Friday or Saturday. The operations can generate smoke.
The smoke from the fires has been contributing to poor air quality in the area for days, with Los Angeles receiving the first haze from the flames in Northern California on Thursday.
The National Weather Service said the smoke would stay in the LA area at least until Friday, when an easterly current should move in to clear it up.