Sheriff: 2 dead in Northern California wildfires

WEED, Calif. (AP) – Two people have died in a fire in a northern California town, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said.

LaRue shared the news of the dead Sunday afternoon at a community meeting at an elementary school north of home, a rural Northern California community that has been burned by California’s latest wildfires. He did not immediately provide the names or other details, including the ages or genders, of the two dead.

“There’s no easy way to put it,” he said before calling for a moment of silence.

Both LaRue and other officials acknowledged the uncertainties the community faces, such as when people will be allowed back into their homes and power restored. About 1,000 people were still under evacuation orders Sunday as firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which broke out of control Friday at the start of the holiday week.

The blaze, known as the Mill Fire, had not expanded since early Saturday morning and was 25% contained at about 6.6 square miles (17 square kilometers), Cal Fire said. But a nearby mountain fire grew in size on Sunday, officials said. It also started on Friday in the sparsely populated area. More than 300 people were under evacuation orders.

Power outages, smoggy skies and uncertainty about what the day would bring left a sense of emptiness around the city of Weed the morning after evacuation orders were lifted for thousands of other residents.

“It’s very quiet,” said Susan Davalero, a city councilor who drove to a meeting with fire officials.

He was joined by Mayor Kim Green, and both hoped to get more details on how many homes were lost. A total of 132 structures were destroyed or damaged, fire officials said Sunday, though it was unclear whether they were homes, businesses or other buildings.

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According to Cal Fire, three people were injured, but no other details were available. Two people were taken to Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta, Cal Fire Siskiyou Division Chief Bill Anzo said Saturday. One is in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burn unit. It is unclear if these injuries are related to the deaths reported Sunday.

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With a population of fewer than 3,000, about 280 miles (451 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, Weed has long been viewed by passers-by as an odd place to stop on Interstate 5. But the city sits in the shadow of Mount Shasta. Wildfires are nothing new.

Phil Anzo, Cal Fire’s Siskiyou unit chief, acknowledged that rural areas have seen more fires in recent years.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of fires in this community, we’ve seen a lot of fires in this county, and we’ve had a lot of devastation,” Anzo said.

Dominic Mathes, 37, said he’s had some close calls with wildfires since he’s lived in Weed. Although fire hazards were frequent, he was not keen to leave.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “Everybody has risks everywhere, like Florida has had hurricanes and floods, Louisiana has had hurricanes and all that stuff. So, it happens everywhere. Unfortunately here, it’s fire.

The wind makes the weed and the surrounding area a dangerous place for wildfires, fanning small flames into a frenzy. Weed has seen three major fires since 2014, a period of severe drought that fueled the largest and most destructive fires in California history.

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That drought continues as California traditionally heads into the worst part of the fire season. Climate change over the past three decades has made the West hotter and drier, and scientists say the weather will become more extreme and make wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Crews battled flames as a Labor Day weekend heat wave scorched much of the state, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in Los Angeles, unusually hot for Southern California. Temperatures were expected to be even hotter through the Central Valley to the capital city of Sacramento.

The California Independent System Operator issued its fifth “flex alert,” urging people to use less air conditioners and other appliances between 4 and 9 p.m. to protect the power grid.

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Ronayne reported from Sacramento, California. Associated Press reporter Stephanie Tasio contributed from Los Angeles.

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