Wildfires that have consumed thousands of acres across 14 California counties, including the Willow fire northeast of North Fork, prompted Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday to issue a state of emergency.
The Willow fire is one of 18 large fires burning in California, most in Northern California, according to CalFire. More than 8,000 state and federal firefighters are on the lines, and Thursday the California National Guard said it’s sending in a fleet of nine helicopters — Blackhawks, Chinooks and Lakotas — to back up Cal Fire crews. They’ll douse flames with water, evacuate the injured and move around firefighters and their equipment.
Meanwhile, the Willow fire entered its sixth day Friday and has consumed 4,394 acres, federal authorities said. That’s up about 25% from Thursday.
By 7:30 p.m. Friday, containment was at 40%, and mandatory evacuations remained in place for the Cascadel Woods and Central Camp areas. The Red Cross and Central California Animal Disaster Team have set up emergency shelters at the Oakhurst Community Center. Red Cross shelter manager Sandy Morehouse said 21 people, all from the Cascadel Woods area, used the center overnight.
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There are now 1,958 people fighting the fire. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Fernando Herrera said the cost of fighting the fire has gone up to about $8.2 million. On Thursday it was reported at $6.5 million.
The fire started Saturday afternoon. Authorities say it was caused by a teenage boy lighting pine needles on fire.
According to Raj Singh with the South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team, crews made good progress through the night on line construction on the southern end of the fire, which is burning in the scar of the North Fork Fire of 2001.
Herrera said the blaze is burning toward the south and east and wasn’t progressing Friday morning, “but we’ll see what the afternoon brings. Right now the weather is pretty good for us. The smoke is rising up and blowing out of the air, there are very light winds and no storms.”
Herrera said the firefighters didn’t experience any precipitation, thunderstorms or dry lightning near the fire Thursday night.
There were still no reports of damage to houses, structures or outbuildings. Herrera said that as of Friday morning two firefighters had suffered injuries, neither serious — he did not know details but speculated they were heat related.
Forest service officials encourage residents to stay away from road-closure areas because there’s fire equipment traveling on the narrow roads, Herrera said.
Friday, crews continued with line construction on the northern and southern side of the fire.
Associated Press contributed to this report
Nicole Santos: 559-441-6247, @Iam_NicoleS