JACKSON, Calif. (AP) — Evacuation orders were extended Tuesday for remote California communities near a wildfire that may have been caused by fireworks or a July 4 barbecue in a mountainous area that is a top tourist destination.
The Sierra Nevada Gold Country Electra fire broke out Monday afternoon, tripling in size to about 15.8 square kilometers. Tuesday night was 5% capped.
The fire made short, uphill runs, fire officials said.
“The rate of spread isn’t what it was yesterday, but it’s still expanding,” said Amador County Sheriff’s Office Gary Redman. He said firefighters were working to contain the flames to unpopulated canyon areas.
Mandatory evacuation orders and warnings together affected 700 residents in Amador County and 300 to 400 people in Calaveras County, Redman said. Evacuation centers were set up for people and animals.
The fire started in a recreation area that was packed with people, forcing 85 to 100 people to vacation by a river and take shelter in a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. facility, Redman said. All were later safely evacuated.
“This was the closest I’ve ever been to a fire. It was literally steps from us,” said Milka Mikula of Valley Springs, who had gone to the river with her husband, her 5-year-old daughter and her 1-year-old son.
They had to wait about six hours before they could finally go home, she told KCRA-TV.
“I just wanted to go home. I wanted to get out of there with my babies. I was shaking really, really bad for quite some time,” Mikula said.
Redman said the cause of the fire was unknown, but it started in the Vox Beach area of the North Fork Mokelumne River. He said fireworks or a barbecue could be the possible cause.
More than 100 fire trucks, 1,200 firefighters and 14 helicopters were sent to the blaze, threatening energy infrastructure, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The terrain was described as steep and rugged.
Cal Fire activated an incident management team for the fire. The teams “consist of trained personnel who provide operational management and support for large-scale, growing incidents,” according to Cal Fire.
A firefighter from the local fire district suffered burns, Redman said.
Vox Beach is located about 55 miles east of Sacramento in the heart of the Sierra Nevada region steeped in the history of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.
Several other small fires burned across the state.