California wildfires burn timber, menace cattle country

Tim Hearden
A pair of wildfires in northeastern California were burning through thousands of acres of timber and grazing land while threatening towns and prompting ranchers to move their livestock.

REDDING, Calif. — Two major wildfires east of here have burned barns, homes and thousands of acres of timber and grazing land while sending ranchers scrambling to move their livestock to safer ground.

As of Aug. 4, the 39,850-acre Bald Fire and the 25,900-acre Eiler Fire were menacing cattle country in eastern Shasta County after having been started by lightning strikes and fueled by dry brush and hot weather.

The Eiler Fire near Burney, Calif., destroyed eight homes and 20 outbuildings and threatened more than 700 other residences, prompting evacuations of three small communities, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In the cattle-rich Fall River Valley, the local fairgrounds was accepting livestock and had about 20 horses and a cow and calf on Aug. 4, exhibit supervisor Heidi Bass said. But many affected ranchers were moving their herds to neighbors’ property away from the flames, she said.

“We’ve got people who’ve evacuated, we’ve got people who’ve lost their homes and businesses,” said Celina Alvarez, who works at McArthur Farm Supply in McArthur, Calif. “There’s areas where everything’s just lost.”

Shasta County Agricultural Commissioner Paul Kjos said he didn’t yet have an estimate of losses, but he expects reports of a loss of forage and commercial timberland. Much of the prime summer range is north of the fire area and will likely be spared, he said, but pockets of rangeland within forests were likely torched.

Kjos said he received several calls from ranchers wanting to know where to put their cattle. He also heard from hay producers who fear that smoky skies could cause delays in harvests, he said.

“I’m sure there are going to be barns and structures and a lot of fence” destroyed, he said. “How much other damage there is, I don’t know.”

Shasta County Farm Bureau members told manager Tiffany Martinez they were just trying to keep their cattle out of the way of the fire, she said.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “The fire is very strong and we’re just hoping and praying all the people in that area are OK and they don’t have huge losses.”

Animal rescue volunteer Tyler Terrell of Palo Cedro, Calif., said she encountered two families with goats and sheep, and she put three of the goats in her back yard.

“There’s been so little communication that it’s been so hard to get information to know who needs what help and where,” she said. “I’m hoping people had enough time to move their stock.”

The two fires are among more than a dozen burning throughout California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Aug. 2. Among other blazes, the 12,975-acre Day Fire in Modoc County was 55 percent contained as of Aug. 4, and three fires in Siskiyou County had burned a combined 5,523 acres and prompted an evacuation advisory in Quartz Valley, according to Cal Fire.

“The drought that’s been going on has been a factor in all of the fires here,” said Bennet Milloy, a Cal Fire spokesman. He said increased humidity and cooler temperatures were enabling firefighters to get a better handle on the blazes Aug. 4.

Online

Cal Fire Incident Information: cdfdata.fire.ca.gov



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