Firefighters gaining upper hand on California’s wildfires, but hot weather looms

Smoke rises from the charred remains of a home and garden in Anderson Springs after a steady rain.

Smoke rises from the charred remains of a home and garden in Anderson Springs after a steady rain.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Firefighters continued to gain an upper hand Thursday night on the deadly Valley and Butte fires burning in Northern California but braced for warmer, drier weather that could increase the fire risk over the weekend.

As of Friday morning, the Butte fire burning in Calaveras and Amador counties had burned 70,760 acres and was 60% contained, according to the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection. Fire officials now say they expect to have the fire contained by Sept. 24.

The Valley fire in Lake County was reported to be 40% contained and had burned 73,700 acres. There has not been an expected containment date set for that fire.


According to the National Weather Service, the cooler temperatures and rain that assisted firefighters in recent days are expected to give way to weekend temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s, low humidity and breezy north winds – weather that will increase fire danger.

“That combination could lead to some challenges for firefighters,” Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in a morning Periscope briefing. Standing outside a burned-out apartment building in Middletown, Berlant said, “It’s already starting to get hot.

“The bottom line: The rain that we received in parts of northern California was nice … but that rain has gone through,” he said. The heat will dry up the moisture that had helped slow the fire, he said.

Fire crews were focusing Friday on hot spots, trying to make sure they didn’t reignite, Berlant said.

The Valley and Butte fires rank among the top 10 most destructive fires documented in California history, Berlant said. The Valley fire had destroyed 585 homes and hundreds of other structures. The Butte fire had destroyed 365 homes, 261 outbuildings and 26 other structures, according to Cal Fire. Both fires continued to threaten thousands more buildings.

Five people have been killed by the Valley and Butte fires this week.

Two men killed by the Butte fire -- 82-year-old Owen Goldsmith and 66-year-old Mark McCloud, both of Mountain Ranch -- were in the evacuation areas and did not heed warnings to leave, officials said. Both were found Tuesday inside their burned-out homes.


The three other deaths resulted from the Valley fire.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that one of the bodies, recovered in the Anderson Springs area, was presumed to be Leonard Neft — a 69-year-old former San Jose Mercury News reporter who had told his family Saturday that he would try to escape by driving to a side road and hiking out. His charred car was found three days later.

The second body was found in the Hidden Valley area. Sheriff’s officials said they presumed it to be Bruce Beven Burns, who was reported missing earlier this week.

Last weekend, Barbara McWilliams, 72, died in her Lake County home on Cobb Mountain. The disabled woman, the first reported fatality of the fast-moving fire, had refused initial advice to leave and later could not be rescued.

There are eight active wildfires burning in the state, officials said. The Rough fire burning in the Sequoia National Forest in Fresno County was reported to be 68% contained and had burned 141,201 acres. It is now the 15th largest wildfires in California’s recorded history, according to Cal Fire.


Shyong reported from Jackson, Branson-Potts from Los Angeles and St. John from Lake County.


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