Hot weather and vast areas of dry, drought-stricken brush continued to fuel the Chimney Fire near Nacimiento Lake on Wednesday, growing to 8,000 acres with containment remaining at 25 percent by evening.
Two more homes burned Wednesday, bringing the total to 32 homes and 13 outbuildings destroyed in the blaze that started about 4 p.m. Saturday near Chimney Rock and Running Deer roads. Another four homes and three outbuildings also have been damaged, and 232 structures remained threatened Wednesday evening, according to Cal Fire.
Mandatory evacuations remained in effect in the communities of Running Deer Ranch, Tri-County, Cal Shasta, Ranchos del Lago and South Shore Village on Wednesday evening.
As 2,312 firefighters from around the state continued to attack the fire, the flames mostly advanced westward toward the rugged Carrol and McLaughlin canyons, where firefighting efforts are expected to be especially concentrated Thursday. Seven air tankers and 13 helicopters continued to douse the blaze with flame retardant and water throughout Wednesday.
The good news was that winds were generally light, and firefighters made substantial progress in controlling the north and east fronts of the fire.
“We’ve reduced the threat to structures significantly in that area,” Cal Fire spokesman Bennet Milloy said.
The light winds Wednesday blew from the south toward the north and the lake, providing relief for crews in the Lime Mountain area south of Nacimiento Lake and west of Adelaida.
“Wind is the fire boss,” Milloy said.
In the Lakeview Drive area that burned early Wednesday, firefighters climbed hills covered in smoldering ashes to lay hose along the edges of the fire.
Some carried hoes and other tools to “dry mop” or extinguish flaring hot spots by covering them with dirt.
Firefighter Jerry Garate of the Corona Fire Department in Riverside County waited along the road for crews to take down trees marked for removal.
The ground underneath the trees heats up, so they have to be felled to prevent them from toppling on people or damaging power lines, Garate said.
Atop a hill near the lime mine, huge clouds of smoke could be seen coming from Carrol and McLaughlin canyons below.
Occasionally, a yellow helicopter dropping water could be seen through the light gray. Bright orange flames — Milloy said they could reach heights of 100 feet — sometimes sprang up and cut through the smoke. Some of the hillsides were covered in bright red retardant dropped from the air tankers.
In addition to making the vegetation below less susceptible to fire, the retardant also hit the edge of the flames, giving firefighters a bit of an opening to attack the blaze on the ground.
A crew of about 24 firefighters, many from Ventura and Orange counties, wielded chainsaws and shovels. Bulldozers nearby cleared trees and brush in preparation for setting backfires near the lime mine. The air smelled of smoke and freshly cut oaks.
Milloy said Wednesday afternoon that the fire remained about 4 to 5 miles west of Adelaida and the area’s famed vineyards and wineries.
Crews were continuing to keep pace with the fire, with just 700 acres burning and containment holding steady at 25 percent all day.
On Thursday, Milloy said, firefighters should have a better idea of what the battle will look like moving forward.
Firefighters feed information about the terrain, weather and other fire conditions into a computer program, which Milloy said helps them estimate how long the fire will take to contain and how many personnel will be needed.
“Usually, you can get a pace for a fire after a couple of days,” he said.
Chimney Fire stats as of 7 p.m. Wednesday
8,000 acres burned
25 percent contained
32 homes destroyed
4 homes damaged
13 outbuildings destroyed
3 outbuildings damaged
2,312 fire personnel
165 fire engines
68 fire crews
7 air tankers
34 water tenders