A rapidly growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe jumped a highway on Saturday, prompting more evacuation orders and the cancelation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada as critically dangerous wildfire weather loomed in the coming days.
The Tamarack Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 4, exploded overnight and was more than 82km2 as of Saturday evening, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest said.
The blaze was threatening Markleeville, a small town close to the California-Nevada state line.
It has destroyed at least three structures, authorities said, and was burning toward the Alpine County Airport after jumping a highway.
A notice posted on the 165km Death Ride’s Web site said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all riders to clear the area. The fire left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and racing to get out.
Afternoon winds blowing at 32kph to 48kph fanned the flames as they chewed through bone-dry timber and brush. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least today in California and southern Oregon, where the largest wildfire in the US continued to race through bone-dry forests.
The Bootleg Fire grew significantly overnight on Saturday as dry and windy conditions took hold in the area, but containment of the inferno more than tripled as firefighters began to gain more control along its western flank.
However, the fire was still burning rapidly and dangerously along its southern and eastern flanks, and authorities expanded evacuations in a largely rural area of lakes and wildlife refuges.
The fire was 1,173km2 in size, or more than 260km2 larger than the area of New York City.
“This fire is large and moving so fast, every day it progresses four to five miles,” incident commander Joe Hassel said. “One of the many challenges that our firefighters face every day is working in new country that can present new hazards all the time.”
In southern Oregon, fire crews have dealt with dangerous and extreme fire conditions, including massive “fire clouds” that rise up to 10km above the blaze.
The Bootleg Fire has destroyed at least 67 homes and 117 outbuildings.
The conflagration has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border.
The Tamarack Fire sent heavy smoke over Lake Tahoe and into Nevada.
The US National Weather Service warned of possible thunderstorms stretching from the California coast to northern Montana yesterday and that “new lightning ignitions” are likely because of extremely dry fuels across the western US.
Firefighters this month said that they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.
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