California town may sit in huge wildfire’s sights

Clear Lake's 15,000 occupants on edge; blaze bigger than SF is among some two dozen in drought-ravaged state

Photo courtesy: CBS News

California is under a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations are in place as 25 wildfires continue to burn across the state. Now, an entire town could soon be in the fire’s path, reports CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.

The Rocky Fire is the biggest, covering 54,000 acres, an area larger than San Francisco. It has already destroyed two-dozen homes, and upwards of 6,000 more are in danger.

It is just five percent contained and continues to grow. Erratic winds, on top of temperatures in the triple digits, have made a bad situation much worse.

The fire started five days ago, scorching nearly 85 square miles of land northwest of Sacramento, forcing thousands of people from their homes. It doubled in size over the weekend.

“I couldn’t get back if I wanted to, and with the fire danger, I’m not sure I want to,” one evacuated resident said.

Authorities want to people evacuate early because the fast moving flames can cut off roads in minutes.

Just beyond the containment line, inside which crews work to box in the fire, lies the town of Clear Lake, with a population of 15,000.

“If it gets across this line, we’d have to start this whole process over again,” Long Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Ohs said.

With so much ground to cover, crews are battling the flames from above and on the ground. Video from a National Guard Chinook helicopter captured how the military is helping scoop and drop water, and planes are dropping tens of thousands of gallons of fire retardant.

At the same time, crews on the ground are fighting fire with fire. Controlled backfires burn out fuel in the path of the wildfire to keep it from spreading.

Nature provided some help too. The wind pushed the flames up a hillside and away from the highway.

The flamed are intense, but it’s the kind of fire the state has been bracing for, after four years of crippling drought that turned California into what the governor describes as a “tinderbox.”

“Unfortunately, I think just beginning,” Ohs said.

Crews are already spread thin. More than 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Wildfire, while thousands more are spread across the state.

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