OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Five months ago, it was fears over flooding. Now it’s flames.
When Chuck Wilsey was ordered to flee over the weekend as a wildfire roared near his ranch home in Oroville, he was ready. He started keeping his truck and camper loaded with supplies back in February, when some of the heaviest winter rains on record in Northern California nearly caused catastrophic flooding at the nation’s tallest dam.
“Fire and flood so close together,” he marveled on Monday at a Red Cross shelter. “We just try to stay prepared,”
Wilsey, 53, and his family were among about 4,000 people evacuated as flames raced through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Sacramento. Sheriff’s deputies drove through neighborhoods announcing evacuation orders over loudspeakers.
Crews were making progress against that fire and dozens of others across California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and into Canada.
Authorities were hopeful some Oroville evacuees would be able to return Monday as winds diminished and firefighters working in rugged terrain extended containment lines.
Wilsey said he believed his home was still standing because crews were able to keep flames from jumping a key mountain road.
The blaze burned nearly 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) of grass, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 17 structures. It was 35 percent contained.
The area burning is southeast of Oroville, near where 200,000 residents downstream from the 770-foot-high Oroville Dam were briefly evacuated in February when the structure’s spillways began crumbling. Wilsey did not have to leave his home that time.
The fire evacuation zone is just a few miles from the valley areas that were ordered cleared out during the winter deluge.
Pam Deditch, who is running the shelter where Wilsey and his family were huddled, also managed a shelter during the winter drenching.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s the other,” she said with a laugh. “We’re used to this. We’re resilient. We’re strong. We get fires and we get flooding.”
In Southern California, at least 3,500 people remained out of their homes as a pair of fires raged at different ends of Santa Barbara County. The larger of the two charred more than 45 square miles (116 square kilometers) of dry brush and threatened more than 130 rural homes. It was 15 percent contained.
The fires broke out amid a blistering weekend heat wave that toppled temperature records. Slightly cooler weather is expected to give crews a break in the coming days.
In Colorado, crews were winding down the fight against a wildfire that temporarily forced the evacuation of hundreds of people near the resort town of Breckenridge. Firefighters built containment lines around at least 85 percent of the blaze.
Across the border in Canada, crews contended with more than 200 wildfires in British Columbia that have forced thousands to flee and destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars.
“We are just, in many ways, at the beginning of the worst part of the fire season and we watch the weather, we watch the wind, and we pray for rain,”
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said.
Rob Schweizer, manager of the Kamloops Fire Centre, said it had been an unprecedented 24 hours. “We probably haven’t seen this sort of activity that involves so many residences and people in the history of the province of B.C.,” he said.
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