Firefighters are bracing for hotter, drier weather on the King Fire east of Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday as the 18,544-acre wildfire continues to pour a massive plume of smoke into the air.
More than 2,500 firefighters are battling the fire, which overnight prompted 2,150 people to evacuate the rugged, canyon-crossed area. Fire managers also have closed U.S. Highway 50 through the area, although they hope to reopen the road and relax some of the evacuation orders later Wednesday.
Although the fire has grown rapidly over the past several days, tearing through heavily wooded terrain, firefighters still have reported no damage to homes or other property. More than 1,600 structures are being threatened by the fire.
The fire, at nearly 29 square miles, is still 5% contained.
“Today the big focus is going to be winds,” said fire meteorologist Jason Clapp during a morning briefing for firefighters before they deployed to the front lines.
At the Crystal View Shell Station, just outside the U.S. 50 closure, anxious residents watched smoke fill the valley below and fretted about their homes. Under California law, residents can be ordered to evacuate but reporters are given virtually unlimited access.
“I’d just as soon not have my house burn down,” said Terry Simms on Tuesday night, who was ordered by sheriff’s deputies to leave his Fresh Pond-area home Tuesday afternoon.
Hundreds of homes in and around Pollock Pines, Mosquito Road and Fresh Pond were under mandatory evacuation orders, and even more were under voluntary evacuation as the fire raced through heavy, dry timber carpeting the steep canyons and ravines outside town.
Leaning against a small pickup in a parking lot as he watched firefighters set small fires intended to rob the main fire of the fuel it needs to burn south toward homes, Simms sipped on a Natural Light beer and wondered how his neighbors were faring. Simms and his landlord evacuated with several vehicles; inside the truck Simms leaned on, four chickens dozed in a covered coop on the front seat.
A hundred yards away, prison inmates worked with professional firefighters to saw down trees and underbrush before setting the understory alight.
Specially trained federal firefighters took command of the fire early Tuesday morning.
The fire, which started Saturday in the town of Pollock Pines, Calif., has been rapidly spreading under prime wildfire conditions: a record drought, high temperatures and autumn winds. Conditions aren’t expected to improve today. The fire is expected to spread to the east, north and west, firefighters reported, with the fire well-established in several canyon bottoms and burning uphill to the ridges above. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Smoke from the fires made air quality so poor Tuesday that some schools near Reno, Nev., canceled sporting events. Ash was raining in the Lake Tahoe city of Truckee.
The King Fire is one of 12 major fires burning in California, which is already experiencing an above-average number of wildfires this year.