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California wildfire grows; evacuations remain in effect

June 30, 2021 GMT
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Flames from the Lava Fire burn along a ridge near U.S. Highway 97 and Big Springs Road north of Weed, Calif., on Monday, June 28, 2021. (Scott Stoddard/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP)
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Flames from the Lava Fire burn along a ridge near U.S. Highway 97 and Big Springs Road north of Weed, Calif., on Monday, June 28, 2021. (Scott Stoddard/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP)

WEED, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire that has put thousands of people under evacuation orders in Northern California grew substantially, but firefighters had some success against the flames, authorities said Wednesday.

The fire covered more than 27 square miles (70 square kilometers) but crews “made good progress on the western edge of the fire, cutting off progression into the communities,” Shasta-Trinity National Forest said in a statement.

Containment was estimated at 19%.

All evacuation orders issued by the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office remained in effect for communities north of the city of Weed, about 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of San Francisco. Residents of other areas were warned to be prepared to evacuate.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled to the fire area Tuesday. On Wednesday he and other governors from the drought- and heat-plagued West had a virtual meeting with President Joe Biden.

Biden said his administration is hiring more federal firefighters and immediately raising their pay. Recalling scenes from wildfires in California and elsewhere last year, Biden said, “Orange skies look like end-of-days smoke and ash.″

Burning in the shadow of the towering Mount Shasta volcano, the Lava Fire was ignited by lightning last week.

An apologetic fire official told a town hall Tuesday that firefighters responded to the initial small fire and left after concluding it was out. It rekindled amid winds and blistering heat because of a scorching high-pressure system over the Pacific Northwest.

While still hot, weather in the region was improving. A small area remained under an excessive heat warning, and in other areas the warning was reduced to an advisory.

The rest of California was free of weather warnings. The San Francisco Bay Area weather office wrote that “the monstrosity of a high pressure system” had weakened and was moving eastward.

The extent of damage from the Lava Fire was not known, but it did burn through marijuana grows that have proliferated in the region in the last few years, exacerbating a local conflict. Law enforcement has been trying to shut down the grows for operating illegally, and the operators, who are mostly of Hmong and Chinese descent, have claimed racial discrimination.

A man trying enter a grow area during wildfire evacuation Monday pointed a gun at officers and was shot to death, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said, adding that the man may have also fired shots.

The Sacramento Bee reported that cannabis farmers claimed local authorities and fire agencies allowed the fire to burn through their properties on Monday.

Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told the Bee that firefighters stayed out of the area because the growers were hostile.

“In the last few days, we’ve had water trucks the growers had that have been blocking roadways, that have prevented Cal Fire from getting in there to fight the fire,” the sheriff said. “Rocks were being thrown at fire personnel.”

Meanwhile, another wildfire to the northeast, the Tennant Fire, grew to nearly 13 square miles (33 square kilometers).