California wildfire destroys 4 homes as fire reaches town

LOWER LAKE, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire destroyed at least four homes and forced thousands of people in two Northern California towns to flee on Sunday as flames jumped a road and moved into populated areas.

The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of about 1,200, and burned the post office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several businesses and restaurants as black smoke loomed over the four-block strip. Staff at a hospital in Clearlake, a neighboring town of about 15,000, rushed to transfer 16 patients to another hospital 25 miles away while firefighters carried goats and other animals to safety as homes burned around them.

Officials confirmed four homes were destroyed, although eyewitnesses could see many more.

The fire broke out Saturday afternoon and grew to more than 3 square miles as firefighters struggled to get a handle on the largely out-of-control blaze amid hot, windy conditions.

The fire was creating its own weather pattern and shifted northward into Lower Lake in the afternoon, said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“As it grows, the fire is pushing heat in front of it and it gets critically dry,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Suzie Blankenship said.

The fire was throwing embers and spreading rapidly because of parched conditions brought on by the state’s historic drought, officials said. Large, explosive fires have torn through dried-out or hard-to-reach areas across California this summer, including a stubborn blaze near the picturesque Big Sur coastline that has burned 113 square miles since late July and destroyed nearly 60 homes.

Lower Lake was evacuated in a devastating wildfire last year.

That blaze killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes. It was considered California’s third-most-destructive wildfire after ravaging most of rural Lake County and parts of Napa County about 90 miles north of San Francisco. A report issued this week concluded that faulty wiring in a hot tub ignited the 120-square-mile fire.

Ironically, the Habitat for Humanity office in Lower Lake was working to raise money to help rebuild homes destroyed by last year’s fire.

Lt. Doug Pittman, a Marin County sheriff’s spokesman who was working on behalf of Cal Fire, said residents fled their homes very quickly this weekend.

“They’ve seen it before,” Pittman told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Another blaze that broke out Saturday afternoon forced the evacuation of 135 homes south of Lake Nacimiento in central California, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office said. It burned more than 2 square miles, but no homes have been lost, and it’s partially contained.

In Southern California, forecasters warned of high fire danger due to a heat wave and gusty winds. Temperatures reached triple digits in numerous places, stoking an increased risk of wildfires across the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties through at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

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