SACRAMENTO — A pair of wildfires burning without restraint about 8 miles apart in northeast California became the focus of state and federal firefighters Sunday as authorities reported that one of the blazes had destroyed eight homes and prompted the precautionary evacuation of a small long-term care hospital.
The two fires, among 14 burning in the state, started within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest and had expanded into private property and scorched 90 square miles as of Sunday morning, up from 39 square miles a day earlier.
The more destructive of the two was threatening the town of Burney, where officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital decided to evacuate their 49-bed annex for patients with dementia and other conditions requiring skilled nursing. The patients were transferred to a hospital in Redding, about 55 miles away, the hospital reported on its website.
The Shasta County sheriff had Burney on an evacuation watch after ordering residents of three small neighboring communities to leave on Saturday night. Sgt. John Greene said the area is sparsely populated and that authorities did not yet know how many residents were affected or if the destroyed homes were vacation houses or permanent dwellings.
Evacuations also remained in effect for a community on the edge of the second fire, which was sparked by lightning Wednesday.
The two blazes were among 14 that federal, state and local fire crews were tackling on Sunday in central and Northern California, state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said. Together, they have consumed more than 183 square miles of timber and brush left parched by the state's extended drought, Mathisen said, adding that the coming week promises not to be any easier.
"Today we are looking at slightly cooler temperatures, but Northern California continues to be hot and dry and breezy in some areas, and in fact we are looking at a fire weather watch going into effect Monday morning for a large portion of Northern and northeast California and possible thunderstorms, which could mean more lightning," he said.
More than a dozen wildfires across Northern California prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue a state of emergency over the weekend. The declaration secures firefighting cost reimbursement for local and state agencies responding to the fires.
Brown secured a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75% of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California.
Three of California's fires were caused by lightning. The blazes have led to evacuations for at least four towns.
As a number of wildfires continue to devour thousands of acres in the northern region of the state, firefighters are getting assistance from the Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing.
Two C-130J military aircraft landed at McClellan Airfield on Saturday. CalFire and the Governor's Office of Emergency Services requested the aerial assistance.
"This particular airplane drops between 3,000 gallons of retardant and the airplane is also used for every other air force mission that can be imagined," said 146th Airlift Wing pilot Lt. Col. Bill Willson.
Ground crews continued to work on the Day Fire burning in Modoc County. It has burned nearly 19 square miles and threatens about 200 structures. Aerial assistance has slowed the fire's progression. The fire is 25% contained.
"We put two loads of retardant on it," Wilson said. "It's currently burning to the southeast and we protected a town to the north."
Several strike teams from the area are joining the fight against the Day Fire, which began Wednesday.
"It's essentially a predictable fire season today," Wilson said. "But tomorrow, that may change very rapidly, so mother nature has a tendency to have her own design on how she wants to start fires, and most of these fires were started by lightning strikes."
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Linda Tiffin said the fire burning near Burney had torched 36 square miles as of Sunday morning, up from 11 square miles a day earlier. The fire known as the Eiler Fire, started Thursday and was not contained at all Sunday afternoon.
Contributing: The Associated Press