Firefighters made strides in containing Northern California wildfires over the weekend and stopped forward progress on the fast-moving Fawn Fire near Redding while bracing for dangerous weather that could whip up flames in the Sierra Nevada.
Crews wrestled the Fawn Fire in Shasta County to 45% containment by Sunday evening, up from 35% earlier in the day and 25% Saturday. The blaze, sparked by suspected arson, had spread across 8,559 acres as of Sunday and destroyed 70 homes and threatened more than 2,000.
With containment rising, some evacuation orders were downgraded to warnings, allowing people evacuated along Fawndale Road east of Interstate 5 to return home. Containment by Sunday evening was such that Scott Corn, Cal Fire deputy incident commander, said: “We can officially declare the forward spread of this fire stopped.”
Stronger winds were expected to test containment Monday, but Tuesday promised cooler, wetter weather in the region, with one-tenth of an inch of rain forecast in the Redding area.
Along the Sierra Nevada, firefighters were bracing for gusty winds that threatened progress against the huge Dixie and Caldor blazes. A red flag warning was issued for the mountain ridge along the California-Nevada border from Monday morning until Tuesday.
The Lake Tahoe region’s Caldor Fire was still growing — by 215 acres overnight Saturday to 221,774 total. But containment held at 76% on the fire’s 44th day.
Firefighters dropped water Sunday near Desolation Wilderness, protected Echo Lake cabins and stopped any movement of the fire east of Strawberry Creek. Officials called it a good day at keeping the Caldor Fire in its footprint. The greatest concern was fire torching trees and throwing hot embers across containment lines, they said.
With southwest winds blowing at 30 mph Sunday evening and the prospect of 60 mph gusts Monday night on the highest ridges, the community of Christmas Valley remained under an evacuation warning. Tuesday’s expected colder weather held out the prospect of relief from a few rain showers north of Interstate 80.
The dangerous conditions also surrounded the Dixie Fire, which was 94% contained Sunday after spreading across 963,276 acres in five Northern California counties.
Given the wind threat in parched terrain, fire officials were surprised no spot fires ignited Sunday, but the possibility remained Monday, public information officer Cass Cairns said. Gusts of up to 35 mph, which can shake down flammable dry pine needles, are expected.
Farther south in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, National Guard fire crews inched up containment of the KNP Complex, which threatened the state’s beloved giant trees, to 8%. The fire stood at 45,790 acres late Sunday.
Containment is expected to increase “rather quickly” in the coming days, said Jon Wallace, operations section chief for the fire. “We’re certainly not out of the woods there, but things are looking good right now,” he said.