LOWER LAKE, California — Triple-digit temperatures and gusty winds thrust Northern California on Thursday into full-fledged wildfire season with several new blazes flaring up, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.
California's 14 large fires, mostly in the scorched northern half of the state, are pushing 7,000 firefighters to their limits as they battle flames amid drought, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.
Dozens of fires started Wednesday, but Berlant said crews quickly corralled all but five of them.
"They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate," Berlant said.
People are to blame for most wildfires, but Berlant said California's drought provides the fuel to get the flames burning rapidly.
The biggest challenge for firefighters is a fast-spreading blaze in Lake County, 130 miles north of San Francisco. The fire started Wednesday, and within hours destroyed two homes and charred more than 12 square miles.
At least 500 residents were chased from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. The fire is burning near, Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.
FIRE LINES HOLDING
Crews battling a fire east of California's Napa Valley held their ground, keeping that blaze from jumping any more containment lines.
The fire, which has burned for more than a week, has charred nearly 12 square miles in Solano County. It spread beyond its containment line Tuesday in rugged, steep terrain baked by triple-digit temperatures.
At least 136 structures remain threatened, and more than 200 people were still under orders to evacuate their homes on Wednesday. It is 80 percent contained. Vineyards were not threatened.
Evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes after a fire started northeast of Sacramento Saturday. The fire burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is about half contained.
BASS LAKE BLAZE
Residents of 200 homes in the Central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday. A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread overnight from 3 to more than 5 square miles. It is 30 percent contained.
Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but remains out of custody because he and his family are cooperating.
IN THE FAR NORTH
Three smaller fires in the far north that started Wednesday each prompted evacuations. Two in Shasta County, 130 miles south of the Oregon border, were about half contained.
And in Butte County, the growing Swedes Fire, 65 miles north of the state capital, was burning over a square mile near Bangor. It threatened 50 buildings and was just 10 percent contained early Thursday, according to Cal Fire.