WEAVERVILLE, Calif. – A fast-moving wildfire burned through homes and businesses after officials evacuated more than half of this former mining town of 3,550.
Residents who fled Tuesday night with handfuls of belongings were told Wednesday they would be allowed to return later in the day after firefighters finished cutting down some trees to lessen the fire threat.
"Our objective today is to keep the fire where it is," California Department of Forestry Deputy Chief Del Walters said.
The fire had destroyed at least nine homes, businesses and garages and had charred 1,900 acres by Wednesday morning. The fire was 20 percent contained, and damage was estimated at $3.5 million, including buildings and timber loss.
About 100 miles to the south, a man suspected of starting a fire in which two firefighting pilots died when their planes clipped wings was expected to be arraigned Wednesday on murder charges.
The planes collided Monday over a blaze that may have broken out at an illegal methamphetamine lab in the woods near Hopland. Frank Brady, 50, of Redwood Valley, was charged with two counts of murder. Richard Mortensen, 43, of San Pablo was arrested on outstanding warrants for drug and weapons charges. Prosecutor Norm Vroman said Mortensen also might be charged in the deaths.
Across the West, 26 large fires were burning Tuesday on more than 201,600 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Weaverville, Dan and June Malloy managed to get some clothes, their computer, a fishing boat and their vacation tickets to Australia out of the house before they left.
"I could see the flames up on the hill coming toward us, and it was coming fast," said Dan Malloy, a retired teacher. "I was trying to hose the roof down and (my wife) was trying to pack. Finally, I just said 'Let's get out of here."'
High winds on Tuesday fanned the blaze toward the town about 200 miles north of San Francisco, and there was still a threat of wind Wednesday, Walters said.
Dennis Hodges, manager of the Victorian Inn on the edge of town, said about 1,000 people stopped there after a restaurant next door was turned into an evacuation shelter. According to the Red Cross, 280 people stayed in the shelter overnight.
In the parking lot, other residents slept in their cars with their pets and belongings.
Trinity Hospital and the county jail had been evacuated earlier in the day as a precaution, said California Department of Forestry spokesman Jason Martin.
Authorities in Southern California were investigating whether an arsonist started an 1,800-acre brush fire that destroyed at least one house in the hills north of Los Angeles and burned within a few feet of several luxury homes. The fire was largely contained Tuesday.
In Montana, Glacier National Park officials closed four campgrounds and banned trips into parts of the backcountry Tuesday as firefighters battled a 14,000-acre blaze started by lightning west of the park. A dozen homes had been evacuated.
Fires also burned in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.