World News – Firefighters in northern California were battling a fast-moving wildfire early Sunday that had razed buildings, forced thousands to flee, and hospitalized four firefighters with second-degree burns.
The so-called Valley Fire in Lake County, northwest of Sacramento, erupted early Saturday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
The fire spread quickly, growing from 50 acres to 400 acres just before 4 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) Saturday, to 40,000 acres at 1:30 a.m. (4:30am ET) Sunday. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were ordered to evacuate.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake County Sunday, less than 24 hours after the fire sparked, and Cal Fire called all personnel to report to duty, canceling any previously scheduled days off. One thousand firefighters were dedicated to battling the Valley blaze as of Sunday morning.
The fire destroyed homes and buildings as it burned through the town of Middletown, where authorities told NBC News that fire hydrants had run dry. The blaze was heading in a south-eastern direction toward Aetna Springs, Cal Fire spokesman David Shew said.
Shew said the wildfire picked up speed early Sunday morning as wind blew in from a westerly direction. He said the fire will rank as one of the worst he’s seen in terms of devastation during his 28 years with Cal Fire.
The department called all Cal Fire personnel to report to duty, canceling any previously scheduled days off, as thirteen fires raged across the state.
The four injured firefighters, who were members of a helicopter crew, were in a stable condition at UC Davis Medical Center, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.
Meanwhile, firefighters battled a blaze about in the counties of Calaveras and Amador, about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento, which had been spurred on by “unprecedented fire conditions” and steep terrain that had helped the flames spread.
The fire’s rapid growth slowed overnight Saturday and it only grew by about 200 acres, but was still burning more than 100 square miles near the tree-studded Sierra Nevada. The blaze, dubbed the Butte fire, which flared Wednesday, was 20 percent contained Sunday morning, Berlant said.
The wildfire had destroyed 86 homes, 51 outbuildings and was threatening about 6,400 more, Cal Fire said. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for several communities.
“I lost my business — it’s all burned up — my shop, my house, 28 years of living,” Joe Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch, told The Associated Press. “I got to start all over. It’s depressing.”
Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.
“I turned the pens open and turned them lose. I just couldn’t gather them up,” he said. “All we want to do is go home. It’s miserable.”
Brown declared a state of emergency in the two counties Friday, helping free up funding and resources to fire the fire. More than 4,000 firefighters are assigned to the blaze, according to Cal Fire.
Thirteen wildfires are raging across California, prompting the National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for a large swath of the middle of the state as thick smoke clouded the region. Cooler temperatures and added moisture in the air is expected to help firefighters over the coming days.
by MATTHEW GRIMSON and ELISHA FIELDSTADT, From NBC News