Fire Carves Path of Destruction Through Northern California

The blaze, known as the Pawnee Fire, has burned thousands of acres in Lake County, destroying more than 20 structures and forcing hundreds of evacuations.

The Pawnee Fire burning in Lake County, Calif., early Sunday.CreditJonathan Cox/Cal Fire, via Associated Press
Matt Stevens

The first explosive fire of the season roared across Northern California on Monday, scorching thousands of acres, razing several homes and forcing hundreds of residents to flee.

Named the Pawnee Fire, the blaze was so destructive that Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as it continued to carve a path of devastation through Lake County — about 100 miles northwest of Sacramento — not yet contained after two days of burning.

By Monday afternoon, officials said, the inferno had charred more than 8,000 acres of mostly rural and sparsely populated land, destroying at least 22 buildings, threatening an additional 600, and forcing as many as 1,500 residents to scoop up their treasured belongings and seek safer shelter.

Lt. Corey Paulich, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said he believed about half of the destroyed structures were homes; the others were sheds, barns, garages and other outbuildings, he said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Cal Fire officials said.

“It’s still very dangerous, as most fires are,” said Scott McLean, a Cal Fire deputy chief. “There is still significant fire activity. Not today, not tomorrow, but in the next few days, we expect to see the fire containment figures start to rise.”

The Pawnee Fire burning northeast of Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Sunday.CreditJonathan Cox/Cal Fire, via Associated Press
A wind-driven wildfire in Spring Valley, Calif., destroyed buildings and threatened others Sunday as fires moved through dry brush in rural Northern California.CreditPaul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

And although the Pawnee Fire was by far the largest and most alarming blaze, several smaller fires were spreading elsewhere in the state.

The Creek Fire, for example, had scorched about 1,300 acres by Monday in Shasta County — about 200 miles northeast of Lake County — forcing evacuations and closing roads there. The Lane Fire, which is burning between the other two, had consumed 3,000 acres and prompted an evacuation warning.

Mid-June is the beginning of the traditional fire season in California, though officials have long insisted that the season is now year-round.

Chief McLean said that of the more than 250 fires that ignited last week alone in his agency’s jurisdiction, 90 started over the weekend. The combination of high winds, heat and abundance of fuels — like dry brush, foliage and vegetation — that remain scattered throughout the region are likely to blame, he said.