Growing wildfire east of Lake Oroville destroys 10 homes; 1,500 people told to flee

A fast-growing wildfire near Lake Oroville has destroyed 10 homes and triggered evacuation orders for 1,500 residents, fire officials said.

The Ponderosa fire erupted just after 1:10 p.m. Tuesday in a wooded and rugged area about two miles northwest of Forbestown, 21 miles east of Oroville, said Mary Ann Aldrich, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Butte County.

By Wednesday morning, the blaze, which started at 40 acres, swelled to 2,500 acres and had destroyed 30 structures, including homes near Feather Falls.

“It’s going to be a long fight because of the weather conditions,” she said.

Cal Fire said the blaze was started by a campfire that was ignited outside a designated campground and allowed to escape.

John Ballenger, a 29-year-old Oroville resident, was arrested on suspicion of recklessly starting the campfire, Cal Fire said.

“All campfires pose a risk of escaping,” county Fire Chief Darren Read said in a statement. “A campfire should never be left unattended and must be extinguished completely before everyone leaves.”

More than 900 firefighters were tackling flames burning in forest land. Dozens more firefighters statewide were heading to the remote area in Butte County to assist in the fight.

At one point Tuesday, conditions on the ground became so intense that a large pyrocumulus cloud formed and could be seen from as far away as Sacramento. So-called fire clouds develop over intense wildfires and are capable of generating lightning, wind and rain.

As firefighters work to surround the blaze, they will face blistering temperatures and high humidity, mostly due to a strong high-pressure system that continues to linger over California.

Much of Northern California will be under an excessive-heat warning until Sept. 4, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

Temperatures in Oroville could reach 100 degrees Wednesday, 107 on Thursday and 111 on Friday and Saturday.

Communities near Feather Falls will face broiling temperatures through the weekend. Temperatures could reach 103 on Friday and 102 on Saturday.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Twitter: VeronicaRochaLA

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UPDATES:

12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with news that Cal Fire arrested a man in connection with the fire.

This article was originally published at 9:50 a.m.

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