A wildfire swept through a northern California mobile home park, leaving dozens of homes in ashes and injuring at least one resident.
Driven by high winds, the grass fire tore through dozens of mobile homes in Lake county before firefighters stopped its progress, fire officials said at a Wednesday evening briefing.
Rows of homes were destroyed on at least two blocks and television footage showed crews dousing burning homes with water. Children were rushed out of an elementary school as a field across the street burned.
Some 1,600 people were ordered to flee, with the Lake county sheriff, Brian Martin, warning of “immediate threat to life and property”.
Like other parts of northern California hit by wildfires this year, Lake county has experienced repeated wildfires in the past decade. The drought-parched region was expected to see red flag warnings for dangerously high winds and hot, dry weather through Thursday.
Fires in the state this year are on pace to exceed the amount of land burned last year, the most in modern history, with officials warning that fire conditions – parched land, high temperatures and gusty winds, show no sign of abating.
Fire crews said on Wednesday they were able to make some progress on the Dixie fire, the largest currently burning in the state. The blaze is now 35% contained, and some evacuation orders were lifted in Plumas and Tehama counties.
The fire is the first to have burned from east to west across the spine of California, where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains meet.
Thom Porter, chief of the California department of forestry and fire protection, warned, however, that a long battle lies ahead. “This is not going to end anytime soon,” he said of the Dixie fire. “Everybody’s going to be sucking smoke for a long time.”
“It’s a pretty good size monster,” Mark Brunton, a firefighting operations section chief, said in a briefing. “It’s going to be a work in progress eating the elephant one bite at a time kind of thing.”
On Wednesday, dozens of fire engines and crews were transferred from the Dixie fire to fight the nearby Caldor fire, which exploded through heavy timber in steep terrain since erupting over the weekend south-west of Lake Tahoe.
That fire has blackened nearly 220 square miles (570 sq km) and on Tuesday ravaged Grizzly Flats, a community of about 1,200.
Dozens of homes burned, according to officials, but tallies were incomplete. Those who viewed the aftermath saw few homes standing. Lone chimneys rose from the ashes, little more than rows of chairs remained of a church and the burned-out husks of cars littered the landscape.
The Dixie and Caldor fire still menaced many small clusters of homes within and around national forests along with larger communities, including Pollock Pines, with a population of 7,000, and Susanville, population 18,000.
Porter, the fire chief, said on Wednesday that the wildfires may have devastating long-term effects, destroying areas of the timber belt that serve as a centerpiece of the state’s climate reduction plan because trees can store carbon dioxide.
“We are seeing generational destruction of forests because of what these fires are doing,” Porter said. “This is going to take a long time to come back from.”
John Battles, a professor of forest ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the fires were behaving in ways not seen in the past, with flames churning through trees and brush desiccated by a megadrought in the west and exacerbated by climate change.
“These are reburning areas that have burned what we thought were big fires 10 years ago,” Battles said. “They’re reburning that landscape.”
Climate change has made the US west warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.
Battles said the fires have created a vicious cycle. Burning increases carbon emissions while also destroying trees and other ground cover that can absorb the greenhouse gas. Dead trees will continue to release carbon they once stored.