Wind gusts hamper battle against Northern California wildfire


LOS ANGELES/DENVER (Reuters) – Firefighters in Northern California have partially contained a stubborn blaze that has forced hundreds of residents to evacuate areas west of Sacramento, although dry conditions and wind gusts are hampering efforts to stop the spread, authorities said on Wednesday.

Smoke rises in distance from County Fire near County Road 63 and Highway 16 in Rumsey Canyon in this #CountyFire image on social media in Brooks, California, U.S., July 2, 2018. Courtesy California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection/Handout via REUTERS

The National Weather Service said it expects wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph) in rural Yolo and Napa Counties, west of the state capital, where rough terrain is already complicating efforts to battle the wildfire that broke out last Saturday.

A force of almost 2,900 firefighters widened their containment lines around the so-called County Fire to 25 percent from 15 percent on Tuesday, the California Fire authority said.

Still, the wildfire continued to spread overnight, having consumed 82,700 acres (33,500 hectares) of grass, brush and dense scrub oak by Wednesday morning, up 14 percent from Tuesday, California Fire said.

While the fires have not damaged any structures so far, officials said they have ordered residents of some 1,345 homes to evacuate as a precaution since the fire began.

The United States is experiencing an unusually active fire season, with the risk considered well above normal for many western states, according to federal forecasters.

Temperatures in the area of the California blaze were expected to be in the mid 80s Fahrenheit (around 29 Celsius) on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

The smoke reached about 75 miles (120 km) south to San Francisco, leaving a film of ash on cars and windows. No casualties have been reported.

Wildfires have burned through nearly 2.5 million acres in the United States from Jan. 1 through Monday, well above an average of about 2.3 million for the same period over the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In Colorado, firefighters faced high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds on Wednesday as they battled eight major blazes that have torched over 140,000 acres in the drought-stricken state.

The largest wildfire, the Spring Fire, has consumed 85,000 acres in southern Colorado, destroying more than 100 homes, forcing the evacuations of several small communities and closing a mountain-pass road. That fire was just 5 percent contained.

Jesper Joergensen, a 52-year-old Danish national, is suspected of starting the fire and is being held on first-degree arson charges, the Costilla County Sheriff’s Office said. He is in the country illegally and may face deportation, police said.

Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry

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