Environment & Science

Valley Fire updates: Evacuation order lifted in Fresno County; firefighters face higher winds

The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
Burned out vehicles and homes are seen in a residential neighborhood of Middletown, California on September 14, 2015.
JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
An apartment complex lies in ruins, burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
Firefighters look through the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
The remains of a bicycle are seen among the ruins of structures burned by the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California.
Emus wander down a road in an evacuated area at the edge of the Valley Fire on September 14, 2015 in Middletown, California. The 95-square-mile fire has destroyed hundreds of homes and is only five percent contained.
David McNew/Getty Images


Drought-stricken California's deadly and destructive wildfires are exhibiting extreme behavior with what state officials describe as record rates of spread exceeding predictions of computer models. 

Firefighters are currently battling 12 blazes in the state, totaling more than 703 square miles, mostly in the northern coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevada. The Valley and Butte fires have destroyed more than 700 homes and hundreds of other structures including businesses, barns, outbuildings and infrastructure.

Updates: 

We'll have updates throughout the day. Check back for more information and see our Fire Tracker for the latest acreage and containment figures on the fires burning throughout the state. 

Fire Tracker 

Update 4 p.m. Firefighters face higher winds

Wind came earlier than expected Tuesday, the Santa Rosa Fire Department's Paul Lowenthal told KPCC. He said that will increase fire activity.

There's also a small amount of rain predicted for Wednesday — up to a tenth of an inch — but rain tends to also bring higher winds, Lowenthal said.

"The only concern we have with that is, typically, as [rain clouds move] the winds increase. That's kind of what we're seeing right now," Lowenthal said. "A little bit of rain sounds good, but the winds that are going to be associated with that are a cause for some concern."

Wind in an area that's been suffering from drought and dry conditions can be problematic, Lowenthal said.

There have been four injuries from firefighters battling the Valley Fire so far.

"Given that we have 2,400 firefighters here, although we did have four injuries, we're glad to see that we don't have any more than that right now," Lowenthal said.

Firefighters were happy to be able to lift evacuations and start sending people home earlier Tuesday, Lowenthal said.

"We do know that in the fire area we do still have several thousands of people that have been displaced. They are eager to get back, we obviously want them to be able to get back, however, until we are able to get good containment ... and that it's safe for people to enter ... we got to make it very safe before we can let anybody back home," Lowenthal said.

He said that they're doing everything they can to get people back to their homes quickly, but asked for residents to be patient and know that firefighters are trying.

KPCC staff

Update 1:00 p.m. Evacuation order lifted in Fresno County

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has lifted mandatory wildfire evacuation orders for dozens of residents in the small Central California communities of Dunlap, Miramonte and Pinehurst east of Fresno.

California's largest active wildfire had charred 217 square miles of grass, brush and timber since it was sparked by lightning July 31. It was 40 percent contained Tuesday.

For the first time in more than six weeks, firefighters are getting a handle on the fire that now has flames simmering in places. It has also moved away from the Sierra Nevada's Giant Sequoia trees, some of which are 3,000 years old.

Fresno County is about 300 miles southeast of where another massive fire is raging in Lake County in Northern California.

 Update 11:45 a.m. Residents wait for chance to check on pets, animals

Scores of people are meeting at a high school in Northern California waiting to be escorted back to their homes to check on pets and farm animals after massive wildfires swept through the area.

The residents waiting at Lower Lake High School will be allowed to go into their homes and yards for 15 minutes to feed and give water to the animals.

Will Irons was headed to his home that is stilling standing in Hidden Valley with his two dogs that escaped the fire with him.

But he had to leave two cats, some chickens and a hamster behind. He is hopeful they are still alive.

Several horse trailers also are waiting outside the fire lines in Lower Lake to transport animals that may need refuge.

— AP

Update 8:00 a.m. Valley Fire area grows to 104 square miles

The deadly and destructive wildfire that sped through three Northern California counties has grown to 104 square miles Tuesday. It is now 15 percent contained.

For a third morning, people are waking up at evacuation centers, some still wondering if their homes are standing or leveled by the massive fire burning in parts of rural Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

At least four firefighters have been injured. One woman died in her home.

Authorities say 585 homes are known to be destroyed. More homes and structures are also known to be razed, but the exact number remained unclear Tuesday. Nine thousand homes remain threatened.

Authorities say some people also still remain unaccounted for Tuesday. But they could be staying with relatives, on vacation or elsewhere and not impacted by the fire.

Hunter Couey and his family fled a friend's housewarming party in the community of Cobb when fire approached the house they were visiting. He shared his video with KPCC:

Video: Family runs from fire

— AP & KPCC

Caretaker: Decision to leave wildfire victim 'haunts me' 

The Associated Press published a detailed profile of the only confirmed fatality in the Valley Fire.  

Barbara McWilliams, a world traveler with advanced multiple sclerosis resisted leaving her home along with her caretaker as the flames bore down Saturday. She was found late Sunday in her home, which had been consumed by the fast-moving fire. 

Lake County sheriff's officials said they were at McWilliams' home 15 minutes after they received notice she was there, but that it was too late to reach her.

The AP reports:  

Jennifer Hittson, [McWilliams'] caregiver, told the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa that she left McWilliams' home around 3 p.m. Saturday. She said she was unaware of the fire's seriousness or how quickly it would grow, even though officers were at that point turning drivers away from Highway 175, which leads to the Cobb Mountain area where McWilliams lived.

Hittson said she called the sheriff's office twice Saturday and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Sunday, only to be told by dispatchers, "We will get out there when we can."

Hittson said McWilliams could walk slowly and that her hands were weak. "That I left her there, it haunts me," she said.

You can read more on the AP's site