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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Melissa Hernandez, Jonah Valdez and Gregory Yee

Mill fire in Northern California explodes, injuring civilians and destroying homes

A fire fueled by hot and windy conditions exploded Friday near the small city of Weed in Northern California's Siskiyou County, destroying homes and injuring civilians.

The Mill fire — which erupted during an intense heat wave that is supposed to last until early next week — had grown to 2,580 acres around 6 p.m. Pacific time and remained 0% contained, said Suzi Brady, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Siskiyou unit.

An unknown number of civilians were treated and transported to nearby facilities for injuries related to the fire, Brady said. She did not know how many civilians were injured, how they were injured or their conditions Friday night. She also confirmed that an unknown number of homes were destroyed.

Weed Mayor Kim Greene told the Los Angeles Times she was at a community center when the fire started at Roseburg Forest Products, a nearby lumber mill.

The blaze quickly gained power. By the time the mayor walked outside, she could hear explosions coming from an area with plumes of black smoke. The fire soon spread to a residential neighborhood.

Greene couldn’t confirm how many homes were destroyed.

The mayor went back into the community center and told the few people present to evacuate. She drove out of the area, stopping near Weed Airport to take pictures.

“It just felt like it was following me,” she said.

The Mill fire continued to grow Friday night as crews contended with wind gusts up to 36 mph and extremely dry fuels, Brady said. The blaze was burning among grasses, brush and timber.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday night declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County because of the fire.

Weed residents recall the impact of the Boles fire, which broke out Sept. 15, 2014, burning more than 500 acres and destroying 150 homes and other structures, the mayor said.

“Half of our town burned,” Greene said. “Everybody was affected. We all still have some PTSD from that.”

In Siskiyou County, already hit hard this year by the McKinney fire near Yreka, residents know to heed evacuation orders, she added.

Greene was at her home Friday evening, monitoring the fire’s progress. It appeared to be moving to the north, away from her location, she said. Nevertheless, she wasn’t taking chances. The mayor told her neighbors to pack up and evacuate; she too was ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

“We’re leaving a lot of things behind,” she said. “The important things are in vehicles. The trailer’s hooked up.”

The Mill fire has also forced evacuations in Shastina and Edgewood, according to Cal Fire. Students at Weed High School were evacuated via buses to Mount Shasta High School.

An evacuation shelter has been set up at the Kahtishraam Wellness Center in Yreka. Large animals are being sent to the Siskiyou County Fairgrounds in Yreka.

“We’re doing the exact same thing we did two weeks ago,” said Cliff Munson, who heads the fairgrounds, referring to the McKinney fire in July, which scorched more than 60,000 acres, killed four people and destroyed 185 structures.

Siskiyou County residents, still reeling from that fire, have sued PacifiCorp, a utility serving the area, alleging that sparks from its high-voltage transmission lines and other equipment ignited the blaze.

As residents and workers on Friday left parts of Weed, which has a population of about 2,600, most of the city was without power; Pacific Power, the utility company there, reported an outage around 1:30 p.m. affecting 7,625 homes and businesses.

Flames appeared to be hollowing out a large commercial structure near the mill in the northern part of the city, according to images on social media. The mill is adjacent to rows of single-family homes.

“We’re closing up the building and trying to get out of the way,” said a social services worker at the Shasta View Nursing Center, just hundreds of feet from where the fire was burning. She and other staff had evacuated 25 long-term residents and rehabilitation patients.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning Friday for the Northern California area near Mount Shasta where the blaze is burning, due to the hot, dry conditions. Temperatures were hovering at 94 degrees, with winds of up to 35 mph.

The gusts died down Friday night, but the fire was actively burning, Brady said.

Siskiyou County was dealt another blow Friday, as a new fire sprung up to the northwest, between Yreka and Weed.

The Mountain fire was first reported around 3:45 p.m. and had grown to at least 300 acres Friday night, Brady said. It was uncontained and burning in timber about a mile east of Gazelle Mountain, she said. Crews noted that the fire was crowning — lighting the tops of trees like torches, a sign of intense activity.

Evacuation orders were in place.

The causes of both fires remain under investigation, Brady said.

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