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Fast-moving Delta Fire traps drivers on highway, destroys homes and forces evacuations, California

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Delta Fire began 3.2 km (2 miles) north of Lakehead in Shasta County, California on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. Forest Service classified the cause as 'human.'

The fire has since rapidly grown to 8 900 hectares (22 000 acres) and is 0% contained as of Friday morning, September 7. There are 1 224 firefighters on the scene.

Numerous structures are threatened, and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office has issued mandatory evacuations for residents along the Interstate 5 corridor from exit 707 at Vollmers north to exit 714 at Gibson.

The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office has issued a mandatory evacuation notice for residents of East Fork Road to Ramshorn Road east to Shasta-Trinity County line. There will be a hard road closure at East Side and East Fork Road for non-residents. There is an Evacuation Advisory only from the East Fork/East Side Road junction west to Highway 3 northward to Ramshorn Road.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has issued an evacuation warning for all residents of Dunsmuir.

An evacuation shelter has been established at Mount Shasta Community Center, 629 Alder Street, Mount Shasta.

The fire is burning in the same parched region of California where the Carr Fire burned 92 936 ha (229 651 acres) of land earlier this summer, destroyed more than 1 000 homes and killed 8 people.

At least three homes have been damaged or destroyed so far, and several more are under threat, the Los Angeles Times reports. About 300 people have evacuated along the 5 from La Moine to the Shasta-Siskiyou county line, said Delta Fire spokesman Capt. Brandon Vaccaro.

Officials closed parts of Interstate 5 in both directions on September 7. When the fire started, law enforcement officers were diverting hundreds of cars and trucks to the La Moine exit to turn around, but the blaze started advancing rapidly toward that once-safe location, said Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Foster of the California Highway Patrol’s Mount Shasta office.

Officers had to send cars and trucks through a 3.6 m (12 feet) gap in the center median designed for emergency vehicles. Remarkably, they were able to get most vehicles turned around and away from the flames, he told the Los Angeles Times.

About 17 semis were abandoned by drivers who couldn’t maneuver their trucks out in time, and at least four of them were burned.

"The flames were over the tops of trees, 15 m (50 feet) high, right here on the shoulder on both sides of Interstate 5. It wasn’t like it was a couple hundred feet from the freeway. It was right on top of the freeway,"  Sgt. Tim Hinkson of the California Highway Patrol said.

Officials expect the fire to continue growing to the north and northwest, driven by fuels and topography. As the inversion lifts around midday Friday and south-southwest ridgetop winds develop, smoke should begin to clear and potential for more active fire behavior exists. Where fuels, wind speed/direction and topography align fire may exhibit short crown runs and short-range spotting.

Fire activity will increase over the next 24 hours as a dry cold front approaches from the northwest with increased south-west winds producing gusts of 10 to 16 mph during the evening. Areas in alignment with gusty winds may exhibit short crown runs.

Featured image credit: Amit Sekhri

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