VALLECITO — Hundreds of firefighters faced off against two new wildfires that broke out in the Sierra Foothills Wednesday, quickly gaining the upper hand on one blaze as the other exploded along a steep, rocky ridge.
Just west of the Stanislaus National Forest in Calaveras County, the fast-growing Airola Fire that started late Wednesday afternoon rapidly ran up the hillside above the community of Vallecito. More than 300 firefighters were dispatched to the blaze as of Thursday morning, and it was about 10% contained, according to Cal Fire.
Local officials ordered evacuations for an area around eight square miles, including Parrotts Ferry Road, Camp Nine Road and the east side of the town of Vallecito. The fire is threatening 200 buildings.
Meanwhile, a new fire start called the Bennett Fire in Nevada County prompted evacuations Wednesday in the Grass Valley area, near its origin on East Bennett Road and Lava Rock Avenue, Cal Fire said. By Thursday morning, however, the fire was 70% contained and evacuation orders had been lifted.
In all, 34 new wildfires broke out Wednesday statewide, according to Cal Fire, with more than 14,300 firefighters battling 14 blazes.
California’s most-watched fire of the past week — the Caldor Fire — meanwhile grew slowly overnight to engulf 136,643 acres and was 12% contained. Although winds helped to spread a spot fire that broke out north of Highway 50 near the community of Kyburz, said Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Keith Wade, it remains about 14 miles from the South Lake Tahoe area.
Air tankers, hand crews and dozers are focused on the fire’s northwestern and northeastern pockets, near Pollock Pines and Kyburz, respectively. About 2,900 crews are fighting the fire, with more expected to join them this week.
“The progression has been not fast over that area,” Wade said of the eastern flank toward Tahoe. “But the concern today is the winds should be less today, but the humidity levels are quickly burning off.”
About 100 miles north, the Dixie Fire — the biggest wildfire of the season and second-biggest in California history — is now 747,091 acres and 45% contained. The fire has been spreading most aggressively to the east, near Taylorsville and the Genesee Valley, prompting hotshot crews to focus on removing vegetation that could feed spot fires. Nearly 4,900 crews are assigned to the fire.
Weather officials expect temperatures to heat up over the next few days across Northern California, with wind gusts of up to 30 mph in the Sacramento area near the Caldor Fire. Starting Sunday, Cal Fire said, thunderstorms could bring lightning strikes and an increased risk of new fire starts to the region.