California wildfires out of control, forcing evacuations and destroying a town

Woolsey Fire near Thousand Oaks, California, early morning of November 9, 2018. (Photo: Lost Hills Station, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Three fast-moving wildfires are wreaking havoc across portions of California. One of them, called the Camp Fire, is in the Plumas National Forest near Chico in northern California. According to a report from KRON-TV in San Francisco, the fire has wiped out the town of paradise and the smoke has made it into the San Francisco Bay area. The other two fires are in southern California near Thousand Oaks. The Hill Fire is just to the west, the Woolsey Fire to the east.

 Camp Fire near Chico, California, evening of November 8, 2018.  (Photo: Butte County Fire Department)
Camp Fire near Chico, California, evening of November 8, 2018. (Photo: Butte County Fire Department)

NOAA and the National Weather Service have had these areas flagged as “elevated fire risk” regions for days due to extremely low humidity levels of less than 15 percent. When the air is this dry it doesn’t take much to spark a fire – a cigarette thrown out of a vehicle, a chain or seat belt buckle dragging along a road, or a campfire left burning could do it. The fires have spread quickly since early Thursday because of strong Santa Ana winds.

Here’s the breakdown about each fire as of late this afternoon, November 9:

Camp Fire

Tens of thousands of people in Butte County have been evacuated from their homes and businesses. The fire is spreading at a rate of about “80 football fields per minute”, according to a CNN report. U.S. Forest Service updates show the size of the fire is around 70,000 acres.

People have been injured, including firefighters, and the town of Paradise has been destroyed. The fire is spreading westward toward Chico, a city of around 93,000 people. Area hospitals have been evacuated, and Butte County schools were closed today. Announcements of other closings can be found on the county’s Twitter account.

Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area and has requested federal funds to help those affected by wildfires in the state. Newsom is serving as acting governor while Governor Jerry Brown is traveling out of state.

Woolsey Fire

People in about 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties are under evacuation orders, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Cal Fire says some structures have already been destroyed.

“Please, please, please if you are asked to voluntarily leave the area, please do,” Ventura County fire Captain Scott Dettore told CNN affiliate KTLA this morning (Friday). “Make sure your stuff is packed and ready. Please leave the area.”

This fire now covers about 10,000 acres.

Hill Fire

This fire has also quickly spread across approximately 10,000 acres, according to Ventura County Fire Department officials  The public information officer tweeted this morning that the fire “has jumped the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon and is well established on the south side of the freeway”. The “101 freeway” is US-101, and portions of it are now closed. The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s public information officer tweeted “Malibu Lakes residents must leave area immediately”.

What this means for truckers

  • Sections of US-70, US-99, and I-5 in northern California will be closed, as well as US-101, SR-1 (Pacific Coast Highway), and SR-118 (Ronald Reagan Freeway) in southern California. Stay updated using this web site.

  • In areas near the fires where drivers can navigate, smoke will dramatically reduce visibility or possible eliminate it. Try to find alternate routes to get around the fires and the smoke.

  • The thick smoke will pollute the air, making health problems worse for anyone who has respiratory conditions like asthma, or a heart condition. Truckers who choose to stop for breaks near fire locations should stay indoors. Even though they might be at a safe distance from the flames, the smoke could get blown in their direction.

 Hill Fire near Thousand Oaks, California on November 8, 2018.  (Photo: Santa Barbara County Fire Department)
Hill Fire near Thousand Oaks, California on November 8, 2018. (Photo: Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

According to the The U.S. Forest Service, the three fires are five percent contained or less at this point, and officials don’t know how they fires started. Conditions are changing rapidly and more fires could start and spread fast. The National Weather Service has extended Red Flag Warnings through the weekend. Click on the map on this web site for details.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.