An explosive wildfire closed down dozens of miles of a major California freeway. The Delta Fire erupted Wednesday afternoon and within hours devoured nearly 8 square miles on both sides of Interstate 5 near the Oregon state line. (Sept. 6)
The Delta Fire, feasting on dead and dying timber and dry brush in rain-starved northern California, continued to gather momentum heading into its third day Friday, while paralyzing traffic on one of the nation’s busiest freeways.
The fast-moving wildfire, which has sent flames soaring 300 feet into the air and choked the surrounding area with smoke, forced mandatory evacuations orders in Shasta and Trinity counties, both of which were ravaged by the deadly Carr Fire earlier this summer, and is threatening scores of homes and seasonal residences.
At last report on Thursday night, InciWeb listed the Delta Fire at 22,000 acres, with zero containment. There were 1,224 personnel – nearly double the number from a night earlier – working against the flames.
The 24-hour incident forecast said fire activity would “increase as a dry cold front approaches from the northwest with increased southwest winds.”
Interstate 5 remained closed in both directions north of Redding, littered with burned-out vehicles and threatened by charred trees that could be in danger of falling into the freeway.
“We are trying to get in there right now to assess the damage and safety concerns,” Caltrans spokeswoman Denise Yergenson told the Redding Record-Searchlight, part of the USA TODAY Network. “Right now, we know we have damaged culverts, we have damaged guard rail, we may have damaged pavement where the trucks burned, but we’re not sure.”
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There is no estimate on when I-5 will be reopened. When it does, Caltrans told the Record-Searchlight that motorists should expect long delays, closed ramps and law enforcement presence.
The Delta Fire sparked Wednesday afternoon, then tripled in size from 5,000 to 15,000 acres overnight while burning in mostly steep terrain in a part of the Golden State that hasn’t seen measurable rain since May, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.
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Officials labeled the fire as “human-caused” but haven’t said whether it was arson or accidental.
The Delta Fire could push Cal Fire’s annual budget to its breaking point. The agency’s director, Ken Pimlott, on Thursday asked lawmakers for additional funding, the earliest such request in state history, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Already, Cal Fire has spent $431 million on firefighting efforts, out of a total budget of $443 million, the Bee reported.
The insured residential and commercial losses from the Carr and Mendocino Complex fires, the summer’s two most destructive blazes, were also exorbitant – an estimated $845 million – Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday.
Those costs could rise, too, “as insurance companies process claims and more claims are filed,” Jones was quoted as saying in the Bee.
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