As firefighters battled a massive Northern California Northern California wildfire threatening numerous homes, some of the 13,000 people urged to flee were spending what may be just one of many nights in evacuation shelters. The blaze, which has charred nearly 97 square miles of brush and timber, jumped a highway yesterday that had served as a containment line. Its rapid growth caught firefighters off guard and shocked residents. "It's amazing the way that thing spread," says one. "There was smoke 300 feet in the air." Cooler weather had helped crews build a buffer between the wildfire and some of the thousands of homes it threatened in Lake County. But erratic wind blew hot embers north of Highway 20.
"There were too many (spot fires) for us to pick up," says a fire chief. "With these drought-stricken fuels, it's just moving at an extremely high rate of speed." At least two dozen homes and 26 outbuildings have been destroyed over the past few days and more than 13,000 people forced from their homes or warned to leave. The fire—the largest blaze in drought-stricken California—roughly tripled in size over the weekend. More fire crews were brought in, bringing the number of firefighters to nearly 3,000. Two more National Guard air tankers were being brought in from Colorado to drop retardant. Crews are also battling 20 other wildfires in California—some sparked by lightning. (Read more California wildfires stories.)