California fire officials said late Sunday that another 162 homes had been destroyed by a wildfire north of San Francisco, while authorities said they were investigating the death of a man found near the source of a fire in Monterey County as suspicious.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that damage assessment teams have counted 1,050 homes burned in Lake County, many of them in the town of Middletown, making it the third worst wildfire in the state’s history. The tally brought the total number of homes destroyed in two wildfires burning in Northern California the past two weeks to nearly 1,600.
CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant says the teams have completed about 80 percent of damage assessment, focusing largely on homes. They have not determined how many additional structures, such as sheds, barns and other outbuildings, were destroyed. That fire, which killed at least three people and charred 118 square miles, is 69 percent contained.
Meanwhile, the latest blaze was burning about 2 miles north of the community of Jamesburg and quickly grew to 1,200-acres after starting Saturday afternoon, CalFire said. The fire had destroyed or damaged 10 homes, burned 1,086 acres and was 30 percent contained.
The Monterey County Sheriff’s office said Sunday that firefighters found the unidentified man’s body inside a charred vehicle in the burn area on Saturday. Sheriff’s spokesman John Thornburg says the man’s death is being investigated as a possible suicide.
Evacuation advisories were issued for residents of Jamesburg and the nearby community of Cachagua, Cal Fire said.
Another 535 homes were destroyed by a separate blaze that killed at least two people and that has burned 110 square miles in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 170 miles southeast. That blaze was 70 percent contained Sunday and even though it continued to threaten thousands of structures all evacuation orders were lifted.
Amid the destruction and continued fight against the blazes by thousands of firefighters, people have been stepping up to help in an outpouring of compassion for victims.
At Starlet Bridal in Santa Rosa, owner Allison Hargave-Barnard, surprised Rachel Lemon, who lost the home she shared with her fiance in the Lake County fire, by covering the cost of her wedding dress and rallying her colleagues in the bridal industry who have offered to donate photography and music services, flowers and a wedding cake, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.
Aria Simpson and her mother, Teresa Fogolini of Bodega Bay, took it upon themselves to help save 18 camels stranded at Sacred Camel Gardens, a spiritual retreat near Middletown, by setting up an online donations site that has collected $15,000 to feed the animals.
During the fire, herdsman Stuart Camps and two others guided the camels from one safe area to another as flames devoured a feed barn, fencing and the landscape around them.
“I can’t put it into words,” Camps said. “I’m just feeling deep gratitude and thinking of everyone who risked their lives to save them.”
Residents of Middletown, the area hardest hit by the massive wildfire in Lake County, were allowed to return home Saturday afternoon. Evacuation orders for other areas in Lake County remained.
The Lake County fire tore through 62 square miles in 12 hours, causing thousands of residents to flee after it ignited a week ago. About 19,000 people were ordered to evacuate.
A weekend of heat had descended on the wildfires after several favorable days, raising fears that major gains could be undone.
That makes it essential that the smoldering remains of the two giant blazes be dealt with as quickly and thoroughly as possible, Scott Mclean, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said.