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Wind-driven brush fire in Northern California triggers evacuations

The Walker fire in an image from a remote camera near New Hogan Lake in Calaveras County on Tuesday.
(AlertWildfire)

A fast-moving brush fire that’s charred 1,100 acres in a rural section of Calaveras County prompted officials to issue an evacuation warning for homes in the area ahead of strong winds expected in the region Wednesday.

The blaze, known as the Walker fire, broke out shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday in a hilly area about 10 miles north of Copperopolis, the nearest community, and about 45 miles east of Stockton.

The fire was initially reported as being about 10 acres, but windy, dry conditions had primed the area for fast fire growth. Roughly an hour later, the blaze had expanded to 1,000 acres, said Emily Kilgore, a public information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A remote video camera installed by the ALERTWildfire program at Upper Bear near New Hogan Lake recorded the fire’s first moments Tuesday evening. The video shows thick, gray smoke billowing above the hillside as the fire expanded rapidly in the first hour.

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The program, an effort by three universities — UC San Diego, the University of Nevada Reno and the University of Oregon — aims to help firefighters and first responders investigate fire origins and behavior. The program is funded by California utilities.

Firefighters worked through the night to get a handle on the blaze ahead of strong winds expected to buffet the region Wednesday. Officials also issued an evacuation warning for about 50 properties, mostly small ranches, in Angels Camp.

The Red Cross opened evacuation centers at Mountain Oaks School and at the Copperopolis Armory and Community Center.

The fire was 10% contained Wednesday morning. Two structures have been destroyed in the blaze. Officials are investigating what sparked the fire.

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The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through 8 p.m. because of low humidity and gusty winds that could prime the fire for explosive growth. Winds of 10-25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph and daytime relative humidity between 8% and 15% are expected through the day.

The winds and steep terrain in the area are hindering fire crews. Roughly 415 firefighters are battling the blaze on the ground and from the airusing five helicopters and four tanker airplanes, Kilgore said.

“They did make good headway on the fire last night, but we still have additional crews coming in today,” she said. “The winds are definitely a primary concern.”


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