Within minutes of igniting, the Clover fire in Northern California's Shasta County sent up enough smoke to look like a moving black wall, prompting school evacuations, a district official said Tuesday.
The Clover fire near the rural community of Happy Valley, about 10 miles southwest of Redding, started just after 12:30 p.m. Monday near Cloverdale Road, Cal Fire officials said Tuesday.
It has destroyed 30 residences and 50 outbuildings, damaged 30 additional homes and is threatening 300 more structures, officials said.
Janet Tufts, the superintendent for Happy Valley Union Elementary School District, saw the smoke get closer and closer to the district's primary school, where kindergarten through fourth-grade students were inside. At one point it was only about a mile away from the school, she said.
Tufts had the students bused to a nearby elementary school later that afternoon.
"It's safety first," Tufts said. "When you see the wall of smoke heading toward the school and you have little children that you're in charge of, you do what you have to do."
The fire has burned 7,400 acres and was 40% contained Tuesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It prompted mandatory evacuations in Happy Valley, Igo and Cotton Wood and other areas in Shasta County.
Three dozen fire crews were fighting the Clover fire Tuesday, according to Cal Fire. Six air tankers, seven bulldozers and 1,129 firefighters were battling the blaze. Its cause is under investigation.
At least three firefighters had minor injuries, one of which was known to be caused by smoke inhalation, said Mike Witesman, a Cal Fire spokesman. At least one civilian received medical treatment for smoke inhalation, Witesman said.
The fire grew quickly because of dry conditions and gusty winds, Witesman said. There has been scant rain in the area since at least the beginning of July. The fire, he said, was at times burning 500 acres an hour.
"The fire has burned very rapidly from the onset," he said. "We have very dry conditions. Sixty percent of it is still very active, and we're expecting … winds again today."
The Happy Valley Union elementary and primary schools remained closed Tuesday but will be open Wednesday, Tufts said. There are still many roads closed around the schools, and many students have lost their homes, she said.
"With the heavy amount of smoke and the amount of loss, we erred on the side of caution," Tufts said. "It's emotional. It's devastating. We're rallying to see what we can do to support our families and our community."