SAN FRANCISCO – In the hours before fire crews were able to corral a wildfire in rural far Northern California, wind-driven flames fueled by dry grass and brush tore through communities at an estimated 500 acres an hour, giving residents just minutes to grab what they could and escape.
Sixty-eight residences were destroyed, officials said Thursday, nearly doubling the initial estimate of home losses in Shasta County from the Clover Fire, which began three days earlier around the community of Igo about 150 miles north of Sacramento. Authorities warned that the number could rise further.
On Wednesday, officials said they had found a burned body in the fire's perimeter. Brian Stanley Henry, 56, was found inside a motor home that was destroyed by the fire, officials said. Sheriff's deputies discovered his body while checking his home in Igo at his family's request.
"It was very destructive in a very short period of time," state fire spokesman Mike Witesman said.
Witesman said the homes were likely destroyed within eight hours of the fire's start. The blaze damaged an additional five homes and destroyed 128 outbuildings, officials said.
It had burned 12 1/2 square miles by Thursday morning and was 65 percent contained.
About 300 homes were evacuated, although officials expected to begin lifting at least some evacuations on Thursday.
Igo resident Ed Fox felt both fortunate and frustrated as he and his wife, Karen, spent their third full day at a local church that was turned into an evacuation center.
Fox's home was spared, but he was angry that he was not allowed to return to it.
He recalled calling his wife Monday afternoon and telling her to evacuate as the blaze raced toward his home of 22 years.
"The fire came within 100 feet of my house. It was moving so fast in some spots that it didn't even go up into the trees," he said.
His wife packed the car with whatever clothes she could grab, their toothbrushes and their dog, and took off.
Fox drove and walked several miles to check on his house Wednesday. He spotted some houses, trailers, cars and boats completely torched, while other structures were unscathed, as the blaze seemingly hopscotched its way through his neighborhood. Authorities eventually told him to leave.
Michael Maxwell, 62, who also lives in Igo, said he heard his home was fine but wouldn't know for certain until he is allowed back into the area. He spent his morning at the community's general store.
"I know a lot of people who have lost everything," he said.
Maxwell was alerted to the fire by his wife, who saw the smoke from town.
"I walked outside, looked up at the sky and saw a 60-foot wall of flames," he said. He estimated the fire was half a mile away. "I jumped in my truck, grabbed two of my dogs and ran off."
Maxwell said he left behind a third dog and horses.
Crews estimated the blaze would be fully contained by Sunday. The cause remained under investigation.
Meanwhile, officials said Thursday that target shooting sparked a fire that burned nearly 5 square miles in a San Francisco Bay Area wilderness park and forced the evacuation of 100 homes.
The announcement was meant to remind recreational users that "the tiniest of sparks can cause a wildfire that can easily grow to be the size of this fire," state fire spokeswoman Tina Rose said.
The Morgan Fire at Mount Diablo State Park in Contra Costa County was 90 percent contained. Officials estimated that fighting the fire cost about $4 million.
Officials have said the nearly month-old Rim Fire, which has burned nearly 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, was caused by a hunter. It is 80 percent contained, with full containment expected Sept. 20.