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California’s Mill Fire kills 2; neighbors say 1 victim in Weed

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Click the arrow below for more coverage of the Mill Fire burning in Northern California.

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Two people have died in the Mill Fire, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said Sunday.

“We have lost two people to this fire,” LaRue announced solemnly at a community meeting in Montague.

Their deaths mean six people have been killed in wildfires this summer in California, all of them in Siskiyou County. Four died in July’s McKinney Fire.

The sheriff offered no details about the victims. But residents of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood in Weed, where the fire did most of its initial damage Friday afternoon, have said they believed at least one person there perished in the fire.

Tea Mill and Mountain fires continued to punish the county Sunday. The two fires have burned nearly 20 square miles, destroyed as many as 100 homes and still threaten hundreds more as California’s mammoth heat wave continued to turn much of far Northern California into kindling.

The Mill Fire, which began in the Siskiyou County city of Weed on Friday, had burned 4,254 acres and was 25% contained as of early Sunday, Cal Fire reported.

The blaze has injured at least three civilians, burned 50 structures and was threatening 411 others, Cal Fire says. At least 1,000 people have been told to evacuate, and the non-profit Rescue Ranch dog facility in Yreka said it had taken in 90 dogs, 71 of them on Friday in less than six hours.

Weed Mayor Kim Greene has said the damage may be greater, with reports of at least 100 homes destroyed, many of them in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Cal Fire says 132 structures “have been affected” and that ground crews will be working Sunday to inspect damaged areas to confirm actual losses.

Although containment was officially at 25%, Kent Cunningham, a Cal Fire battalion chief, said firefighters had made good progress at building containment lines on the west and north sides of the fire perimeter. “The fire is currently holding in its current footprint,” he said at Sunday’s community meeting — a statement that generated considerable applause.

MOUNTAIN FIRE 0902
Firefighters continue to work on the Mountain Fire in Siskiyou County, seen burning along Gazelle Callahan Road on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. The fire had burned 6,541 acres and was 5% containment, Cal Fire said in a Sunday morning update. Jonathan Rivas Special to The Bee

mill fire map

This live-updating map shows the location of the Mill Fire, right, and the Mountain Fire, with satellite heat detection data for hot spots. Click on the legend button for more information.

Sources: US Department of the Interior, IRWIN, NIFC, NASA, NOAA and Esri

On Sunday, firefighters in Siskiyou County turned their focus to the Mountain Fire, which began Friday afternoon 10 miles northwest of the Mill Fire and just outside of the community of Gazelle. Firefighters were working Sunday to secure lines around the fire’s north and west flanks, Cal Fire Capt. Matt Ryan said at an operational briefing.

That fire was at 8,460 acres and 10% containment Sunday afternoon. There were 690 structures threatened and 332 people evacuated.

On Sunday afternoon the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office expanded the evacuation orders to include two more zones southwest of Gazelle — zones 2334B and 2331A on Zonehaven. Residents in both zones were directed to take Highway 3 to Yreka.

Hot, dry fire conditions in Northern California

Firefighters worried that winds that could push flames and blow embers onto the drought-plagued landscape. Temperatures were expected to climb into the mid-90s over the next two days — and up to 103 degrees by Tuesday. Fire officials, however, said during a Sunday community meeting that the winds remained calm, and meteorologists expected only light breezes through Wednesday.

Extremely dry conditions had fire officials on edge. “All those fuels out there have been baking in the sun,” said Troy Velin, a fire behavior analyst with Cal Fire.

On Sunday morning in Gazelle, where an evacuation warning remained in effect, Dawnia Deegan, 51, sat in her front yard with her sister and brother-in-law, Dania and Brian Landis, sipping coffee and watching convoys of fire trucks and heavy equipment head to and from the Mountain Fire, burning on the hills west of town.

She works at a gas station in Weed, but has been forced to stay home due to the power being out in that corner of the city.

The last two nights she’s been keeping an eye on the orange glow from the fire—and hoping for the best.

“We have our bags packed,” she said. “If they tell us we need to go, we will.”

Where did Mill Fire start?

Officials in Weed have said the Mill Fire began Friday in a warehouse in an unused portion of the Roseburg Forest Products mill that was scheduled for demolition, although officials at Cal Fire haven’t said how or where the fire started.

Rebecca Taylor, Roseburg’s spokeswoman, said Sunday that Cal Fire is investigating the mill property, and “we are cooperating fully in that investigation.”

On Sunday, two days after the fire prompted the frantic evacuation of Weed, wisps of smoke were still drifting up from the tangled girders and twisted sheet metal at the ruined warehouse. Crime scene tape had been strung across Railroad Avenue, which heads north toward the ruined Lincoln Heights neighborhood, just east of the mill property.

Debbie Cummins, who has lived on Alamo Avenue across the railroad tracks from the Roseburg property since 1988, said her neighborhood turned chaotic Friday when the big warehouse caught fire as the wind howled.

“I heard the popping sound and everything,” she said Saturday. “And then pretty soon the wind starts blowing, and the wind and the smoke and everything started going that way.” She pointed left, toward Highway 97 and Lincoln Heights.

roseburg.JPG
A destroyed warehouse smolders Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, on Roseburg Forest Products property in Weed, Calif., one day after the Mill Fire burned through the adjacent Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Ryan Sabalow rsabalow@sacbee.com

Power outages in Siskiyou

City officials declared a state of emergency Saturday and were working to get food from a local grocery store to evacuees. Govt. Gavin Newsom also declared a state of emergency to help in the response effort.

Weed residents had been without power since Friday, but Pacific Power said that as of Saturday morning it had restored electricity to about 75% of its customers.

The utility said 2,697 customers remain without power and that crews may need up to 48 hours to get service turned back on. And other services were still lacking; Brian Schenone, the director of the county Office of Emergency Services, said cell service is still out for much of the area.

“We’re getting used to this,” he said at the community meeting in Montague. “Here we are, back into another incident.”

This story was originally published September 4, 2022 8:20 AM.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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