Crews have dug in and burned out fire lines as high winds continue to fan the fury of a northern California wildfire – the second year in a row extreme weather events have spawned massive flames and vast property damage.
“We have a firefight ahead of us and the wind today is going to make it very challenging,” said Keith Wade, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
The Caldor Fire in the northern Sierra Nevada already destroyed dozens of homes, and authorities on Friday closed down a 74-kilometre stretch of Interstate 50.
The highway was closed after debris from the blaze fell onto the roadway and because of red flag warnings for 32-48km/h winds that by Saturday evening “combined with continued extremely dry fuels will result in critical fire weather conditions in the vicinity of the Caldor Fire”, the National Weather Service said.
The winds could gust to 65km/h on Saturday.
The road is a key checkpoint as crews struggle against the fire, which erupted this week and grew to 10 times its size in a few days, fuelled by winds.
The Caldor Fire had devoured about 310 square kilometres as of Saturday and more than 1500 firefighters were battling it amid rugged terrain.
The blaze was one of about a dozen large wildfires that have incinerated northern California, destroying at least 700 homes alone in and around the Sierra Nevada communities of Greenville and Grizzly Flats.
The fires have burned about 6000 sq km. They were burning in terrain that is exceptionally dry from two years of drought likely exacerbated by climate change.
Northwest of the Caldor Fire, the massive Dixie Fire kept expanding and new evacuations were ordered. In five weeks, the fire has become the second-largest in state history and blackened an area twice the size of Los Angeles.