Fires turn nasty again

Governor’s visit followed by new outbreak, evacuations

Fire is fickle, as Butte County residents learned again this week. On Monday (July 7), when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the remnants of the Humboldt Fire, consoling folks who’d been burned out of their homes, most local fires were under relative control and the smoky air was beginning to clear. (The governor is shown below with, left to right, Secretary of Service and Volunteering Karen Baker and Paradise Mayor Alan White.)

By Tuesday all that had changed. Wind gusts in the Concow area had stirred up the Camp Fire, pushing it toward the small mountain community, forcing evacuation. By Wednesday morning some 50 structures had been destroyed, 40 of them homes.

Meanwhile, the West Empire Fire was moving into the West Branch of the Feather River Canyon, threatening Paradise and the Upper Ridge. By Wednesday morning more than 3,500 people, most living on the canyon side of Pentz Road, had been evacuated. Fortunately, with the help of favorable winds, firefighters were able to keep the blaze from jumping the river.

Local shelters that had closed just days earlier were forced to reopen and quickly filled, and the Red Cross again sprang into action, providing emergency assistance and stocking local shelters. (For more on this, see our editorial.)

Air-quality officials once again warned that the smoky air was hazardous to health, especially in the foothills area.

If it’s any solace, the Sacramento Bee carried an article Tuesday noting that in the 1880s, before the advent of forest firefighting, lightning-caused fires burned freely, and Sacramento Valley air was often smoke-filled.