An explosive wildfire raced across several rural communities in Northern California, charring more than 60 square miles over a matter of hours, chasing thousands of people from their homes and sending four firefighters to the hospital with second-degree burns. The fire erupted in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, yesterday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were evacuated. The firefighters, all members of a helicopter crew, were airlifted to a hospital burn unit, where they were listed in stable condition, a fire department rep said.
To the east, firefighters battled a blaze about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that exploded to more than 101 square miles in four days, turning the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white. Crews increased containment to 20% by early today. The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, has destroyed 86 homes, 51 outbuildings and was threatening about 6,400 more. "I lost my business—it's all burned up—my shop, my house, 28 years of living," said Joe Thomas, who lives near Mountain Ranch. "I got to start all over. It's depressing." Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, helping free up funding and resources. More than 3,850 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, and more we expected to join. Meanwhile, new evacuation orders were issued yesterday for the largest wildfire in the state, threatening to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. (Read more wildfires stories.)