By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire that spread into a small Northern California town over the weekend has destroyed more than 175 homes and businesses, authorities said on Monday, as crews fought to save more dwellings from the flames.
The Clayton fire, named for the creek near where it broke out, was driven by fierce winds into the foothill community of Lower Lake, 80 miles (130 km) north of San Francisco, forcing hundreds of residents to flee. That fire broke out on Saturday evening.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Monday afternoon that more than 175 structures had been destroyed by the fire and that 1,500 others were threatened. There were no reports of casualties.
Lake County sheriffs deputies were investigating burned-out structures. The nearby community of Clear Lake was also evacuated.
As winds abated on Sunday evening, crews made progress cutting containment lines around the flames and putting out hot spots, said Daniel Berlant of the California forestry department. “As temperatures heat back up again today, it’s likely fire conditions will increase.”
“We’ve got over 1,600 firefighters ready to go to battle again when that happens.”
The cause of the Clayton fire, which had blackened about 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) by late Monday afternoon, was under investigation. Fire managers said the blaze grew during the day, but remained about 5 percent contained.
The conflagration is one of 24 major wildfires burning across the drought-parched U.S. West, which all together have charred nearly 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares).
The so-called Chimney fire, which erupted on Saturday afternoon in San Luis Obispo County, had scorched more than 4,300 acres (1,740 hectares) in less than 48 hours, destroying 20 structures and threatening some 150 others as hundreds of residents were told to evacuate.
That blaze, which broke out near Chimney Rock Road, was only 10 percent contained as of Monday morning.
Monday afternoon, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, declared states of emergency for both the Chimney Fire and the Clayton Fire, which allows local authorities to receive help from emergency response agencies throughout the state.
The Soberanes fire, one of the largest so far this season, has burned through more than 72,000 acres (29,100 hectares) near scenic Big Sur, destroying 57 homes and 11 outbuildings since it broke out on July 22. It was 60 percent contained as of Monday.
A bulldozer operator died on July 26 when his tractor rolled over as he helped property owners battle the flames, the sixth wildfire fatality in California this year.
Authorities have traced the Soberanes fire to an illegal campfire left unattended in a state park.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Peter Cooney and Bernard Orr)