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Northern California wildfire explodes in size; residents evacuate

Happy Camp Complex fire grows 8 square miles overnight, forces additional evacuations

A wildfire burning along the California-Oregon border grew by 8 square miles overnight Tuesday to become the largest in the state, prompting new evacuation orders, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The Happy Camp Complex fire remains just 15% contained and has burned more than 71,700 acres in the Klamath National Forest since it was ignited by a lightning strike Aug. 11. A thunderstorm that day pummeled the region with lightning strikes and ignited 17 fires; all but three have been extinguished.

The blaze grew more than 5,000 acres overnight, overtaking the July Complex fire, which is 78% contained after burning roughly 40,000 acres. 

The advancing flames forced Siskiyou County communities north of Highway 96 between Scott River Road and Seiad Creek Road to evacuate. Strong winds on Wednesday are expected to push the flames west to the Hamburg and Scott Bar communities, officials said.

A system of warm, dry air over the area that triggered a red flag warning through Wednesday night will likely lead to “large growth” of the blaze, the U.S. Forest Service warned.

The fire so far has cost an estimated $41 million, with more than 2,700 firefighters assigned to the blaze.

Over the Labor Day weekend, about 170 new wildfires were started, but all were extinguished before they could grow into significant incidents, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Though crews are battling fewer large blazes than they were just a couple of months ago, officials caution that forest lands are still dangerously dry just as California enters what has typically been the worst time for wildfires.

“Historically, September and October are the months where we see the largest and most damaging wildfires, and conditions this year still remain critically dry,” Berlant said during a weekly update of fire conditions.

The red flag conditions up north could “bring some additional challenges,” he added.

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