California fires raging as red flag warnings spread across the West
Sixty children were temporarily trapped by a wildfire Sunday when an access road at a California summer camp was “completely enveloped by flames,” a fire service spokesman said.
The fire and fallen trees made the road out of the Circle V Ranch camp in Santa Barbara County impassable for several hours. Along nearby Lake Cachuma, visitors were forced to abandon tents, RVs and boats.
There are at least 14 fires burning across California, with 5,000 firefighters battling the flames in extremely dry conditions, Cal Fire said Sunday. Fresno area residents haven’t seen a drop of rain in 63 days. Red flag warnings have been issued across six states in the West, where firefighters continue to battle dozens of large blazes.
A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are happening now or imminent, according to the National Weather Service. The warnings follow a heatwave that saw more than 40 high-temperature records set or tied Saturday across the West, including in Los Angeles; Las Vegas, Nevada; Helena, Montana; and Boise, Idaho.
Bakersfield, California, is forecast to top 106 degrees again on Monday, before temperatures drop slightly into the low 100s for the rest of the week, CNN Meteorologist Rachel Aissen said.
Dry thunderstorms — which produce lightning without sending rain to the ground — may spark additional wildfires this week, the weather service warned.
“Many cities in this region have not seen rainfall since May, she said. “Fresno’s last date of measurable rain was May 7.”
In the hot, dry conditions over the weekend, thousands of Californians evacuated homes at risk from wildfires.
One of the most dangerous is the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County in coastal Southern California — which threatened the children at the summer camp. The blaze also has forced about 3,500 people to leave their homes, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Sunday.
One of the campers, Amayah Madere, told CNN affiliate KCBS she was swimming in the pool when a counselor told her to get out of the water and change clothes in a hurry. Campers were escorted to a dining hall to wait while firefighters battled flames around them, she said.
“I prayed that if I didn’t die I would go to church and right when I prayed the firefighters came,” Madere said.
Eric Peterson, Santa Barbara County fire chief, said dangerous conditions meant the campers could not be taken out right away. “They were trapped because the road was completely enveloped by flames and there were trees falling down across the road and there was really just no way to get them out of there,” Peterson said. “So we had fire personnel, sheriff’s personnel and Los Padres National Forest personnel all back there keeping those kids safe, and they rode it out there with them for hours, until it was safe enough to get them out of there.”
All campers and staff were safe, organizers said in a message posted on social media.
CNN affiliate KEYT tweeted a video taken from inside a vehicle driving through the smoke.
Winds out of the southeast are pushing the fire away from Santa Barbara and towards Santa Ynez, authorities said. A path towards Santa Ynez has already burned, which is helping firefighters contain parts of the fire.
The fire began Saturday and expanded quickly, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said. Its cause was unknown.
The fire has claimed more than 7,800 acres and was only 5% contained Sunday night, Cal Fire tweeted.
More fires in California
On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency in Butte County in northern California. Officials had ordered the evacuation of more than 300 homes in the county, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire said. By Sunday evening approximately 4,000 people had been evacuated, according to the Cal Fire website.
The blaze known as Wall Fire started Friday and by Sunday evening had burned 5,600 acres and was 25% contained, officials said.
At least 17 structures, including homes, have been destroyed while five others were damaged, officials said. Cal Fire said 5,400 structures were threatened.
“Firefighters are continuing to establish and maintain control lines and reduce the threat of property damage. Evacuation orders and warnings are still in effect,” the Cal Fire website said Sunday evening.
Fires spread north
Forty-five fires are burning across the Western part of the US, according to the US Forest Service. Fires are burning from New Mexico and Arizona, to Washington and Montana.
Further north, 10,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders in British Columbia, Canada, where a state of emergency was declared Friday, fire service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said. About a dozen of the fires are considered major, he said. Military assistance has been brought in to help the 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, which are mostly in rural areas.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Haley Brink, Tony Marco and Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.