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Pawnee Fire Chars 11,500 Acres, Wipes Out 22 Structures


Firefighters on Tuesday continued to battle a destructive blaze in Lake County that has wiped out at least 22 structures and scorched at least 11,500 acres, according to Cal Fire.

There has been progress in the fight against the flames, but not much. The Pawnee Fire was 5 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, according to Cal Fire.

The fire that broke out Saturday evening has forced 3,000 residents from their homes. It is the latest devastating blaze to rip through the isolated and impoverished county of just 65,000 people in the last few years.

In 2015, a series of fires destroyed 2,000 buildings and killed four people.

The following year, an arsonist started a fire that wiped out 300 buildings.

Last year, the county was among those ravaged by a string of fires that ripped through Northern California wine country.

“I think we’re all just so traumatized and overwhelmed with all these fires year after year, this whole community is at a breaking point,” said Terri Gonsalves, 55, who evacuated her home around midnight Sunday.

She put four goats into her truck after she looked out her back window and saw a big hill aflame. She is staying with her daughter in nearby Middletown, a small city where dozens of homes were destroyed in 2015. “When this stuff happens, we rally around each other.”

Mandatory evacuation orders in Lake County are in effect for people in the Spring Valley community and surrounding areas, according to officials. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department is posting detailed and up-to-date evacuation orders on its website.

An evacuation center has been set up at Lower Lake High School located at 9430 Lake Street in Lower Lake, according to officials. A staging area for evacuated animals has been established at Social Service Center located at 15975 Anderson Ranch Parkway in Lower Lake.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency in Lake County, where the fire was raging about 120 miles north of San Francisco, a rural region particularly hard-hit by fires in recent years. The declaration will enable officials to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery.

Jim Steele, an elected supervisor, said the county is impoverished and its fire-fighting equipment antiquated. He also said the county has just a few roads into and out of the region, which can hinder response time. Steele said the area has also been susceptible to fire for many decades because dense brush and trees in the sparsely populated area, but the severity of the latest blazes is unexpected.

“What’s happened with the more warming climate is we get low humidity and higher winds and then when we get a fire that’s worse than it’s been in those 50 years,” Steele said.

Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox said more than 230 firefighters were battling the Lake County fire in a rugged area that made it difficult to get equipment close the blaze.

A forestry scientist says it’s difficult to forecast how severe California’s wildfires will be this year, but said the drought-dried vegetation throughout the state is a bad omen.

“You have a lot of grass and its dry and that’s cause for concern,” said Keith Gilless, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s department of environmental science.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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Source: NBC Bay Area

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