100 homes burned in Calif. town plagued by wildfire

Last Updated Aug 15, 2016 12:30 PM EDT

LOWER LAKE, Calif. - A fast-moving Northern California wildfire has destroyed more than 100 homes and forced thousands to flee an area where drought conditions and high temperatures are making firefighting difficult. Officials say a total of 175 structures have been burned.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said Monday that the fire in Lower Lake, still recovering from a devastating wildfire nearly a year ago about 90 miles north of San Francisco, has scorched nearly 5 square miles.

No injuries have been reported.

The flames jumped a road Sunday and moved into the town of 1,200 that's still recovering from a devastating wildfire nearly a year ago.

Thousands of structures are threatened after the fire burned the post office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several businesses. Officials didn't immediately have a tally of how many businesses and other buildings were lost.

The wildfire has forced some 4,000 people to flee

The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of 1,200 about 90 miles north of San Francisco, on Sunday and burned the post office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several businesses as thick, black smoke loomed over the small downtown strip.

Staff at a hospital in Clearlake, a neighboring town of about 15,000, rushed to transfer 16 patients to another hospital and firefighters carried goats and other animals to safety as homes burned around them.

The blaze was one of 11 large wildfires in California, where high temperatures and parched conditions brought on by a five-year drought raised the fire danger. In central California, a day-old wildfire burned 20 structures and threatened 150 homes.

The Lower Lake fire broke out Saturday afternoon and exploded to nearly 5 square miles as it fed on bone-dry vegetation. Firefighters struggled to get a handle on the largely out-of-control blaze in 100-degree heat and windy conditions.

Residents thinking conditions were calm earlier in the day went on errands in town and came back to roaring flames and smoke. Some used hoses or water from their pools to try to protect their houses.

Rick Davis, 40, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he went to lunch in Lower Lake and rushed home when he heard the fire exploded. He used a hose to wet down his roof.

"I'm just scared," he said. "The wind can just change."

Nearby, Garrett Reed, 43, made similar preparations.

"If I see embers and ash rain down, I will turn the sprinklers on the roof and get out," he told the newspaper. "But this is my grandfather's house, and I'm not going to lose it."

Phaedra Phelps had the same thought after hearing the flames roared to life and rushed back from the store Sunday.

"My daddy bought this house for me 18 years ago," Phelps told the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa. "I'm staying here. This is my home. Unless my home is on fire, I'm not going anywhere."

The fire created its own weather pattern and shifted northward into Lower Lake on Sunday afternoon, said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Tragically, the burned Habitat for Humanity office had been raising money to help rebuild homes destroyed by one of the state's most destructive blazes nearly a year ago.

"Emotions are still incredibly raw from the Valley Fire," state Sen. Mike McGuire said about last year's wildfire, which killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes. "I don't think any of us thought we'd be back where we are tonight."

Lieutenant Doug Pittman with the Marin County Sheriff's Department told CBS San Francisco the fire was worse than the Valley Fire last year, and that officials were worried about losing the town of Clearlake.

In central California, similar conditions led the wildfire near Lake Nacimiento, about 180 miles northwest of Los Angeles, to explode from 2 to nearly 7 square miles Sunday, Cal Fire spokesman Bennet Milloy said. The blaze shifted north toward the lake, leading authorities to evacuate some residents by boat.

In Southern California, forecasters warned of high fire danger due to a heat wave and gusty winds. Temperatures reached triple digits in numerous places, stoking an increased risk of wildfires across the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties through at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.