California’s wildfire season, mostly quiet so far, roared to life Thursday as a brush fire east of Redding prompted the evacuation of a community college and hundreds of homes in outlying neighborhoods.
While the Mountain Fire was relatively small — burning about 600 acres by evening — it disrupted the lives of thousands of Shasta County residents still on edge after last summer’s devastating Carr Fire.
The fire burned a brushy area around the unincorporated community of Bella Vista. At one point, it had doubled in size in less than an hour.
By 4 p.m., the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office reported that nearly 4,000 residents were evacuated, and about 1,100 homes were threatened by the fire. Local media outlets reported that at least one house had burned.
An hour later, the winds had calmed, and “things look considerably better,” said Capt. Robert Foxworthy, a Cal Fire spokesman.
The blaze was 20% contained at 7 p.m. Thursday, according to a Cal Fire update.
Shasta College said its campus was evacuated — prompting officials to relocate an emergency shelter that had been set up at the college to Crosspointe Community Church, 2960 Hartnell Road, in Redding.
“Everything that is north of us is closed down and evacuated,” said Nicole Van Orden, an employee at Vic’s Mobile Marine, a boat repair shop in Bella Vista.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it cut power to 1,211 customers at Cal Fire’s request once the fire started. The shutoff wasn’t part of the troubled utility’s program that calls for imposing blackouts during dry, windy days to prevent fires from starting.
Caltrans said Highway 299, the main east-west road in the region, was closed in both directions between Old Oregon Trail in Redding to Deschutes Road in Bella Vista.
An employee at Bella Vista Grill, reached mid-afternoon, said employees were evacuating. “I’ve got to get out of here,” she said before ringing off.
And at the My T Fine Foods, employee Patrick Van Buskirk said evacuees and others were jamming into the convenience store, stocking up on provisions and seeking answers. “Considering last year’s fire, everybody’s kind of worried,” he said.
The fire had the potential to become the most serious of what has been a relatively modest wildfire season so far. Only a few thousand acres have burned across California, compared to last year’s 1.9 millions acres, a modern record. Evacuations have been minimal.
“There’s been nothing as dynamic as this at the moment,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean.
The National Weather Service said temperatures had reached 95 degrees Thursday afternoon and were expected to reach 104 on Friday.
But the winds were cooperating. Cory Mueller, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento, said the dry north winds topping 20 mph that contributed to the Mountain Fire’s initial spread were expected to continue tapering off on Friday.
“The north winds are what we watch for especially this time of year,” he said.
The area east of Redding has burned several times over the last few of decades.
The largest fires were the 1992 Fountain Fire, which burned 636 buildings, and the Jones Fire in October 1999, which burned 954 buildings and killed one person.
Smaller fires burn through that part of Shasta County nearly every summer and fall.
Shasta County suffered profoundly in last summer’s Carr Fire, which burned western Redding and outlying communities.
The Carr Fire, which ignited July 23, 2018, burned more than 1,000 homes. Eight people died, including two children and three firefighters.
The Carr Fire was caused by a vehicle with a flat tire at the intersection of Highway 299 and Carr Powerhouse Road west of Redding.