July 30, 2015 / 9:00 AM / 4 years ago

California wildfire forces evacuation of more than 500 people

(Reuters) - A rapidly spreading brushfire burning in parched timberland north of San Francisco forced the evacuation of more than 500 people less than a day after it broke out, fire officials said on Thursday.

The Sierra Fire is shown burning up a hillside in this July 25, 2015 handout photo by the Sierra National Forest released to Reuters July 28, 2015. REUTERS/Sierra National Forest/Handout via Reuters

The blaze, named the Rocky Fire, is one of a string of wildfires threatening homes and scorching parched wilderness in the U.S. West, where several regions have endured sustained drought.

The Rocky Fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon in Lake County, 110 miles (180 km) north of San Francisco. By Thursday morning it had spread to 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

The agency said the fire expanded rapidly through heavy brush and timberland. Rugged terrain made access difficult for firefighters.

“Everything is very dry and this fire has moved extremely fast,” said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

The blaze, which is zero percent contained, has destroyed several outbuildings, and mandatory evacuation orders were issued to about 500 people within the first 12 hours of the fire, Cal Fire said.

Smoke from the fire has been seen up to 80 miles (130 km) to the south in Napa, one of the state’s famed wine-making regions, where another blaze burning for a week forced the evacuation of 200 people on Wednesday.

The 7,500-acre (3035 hectares) Wragg Fire, burning near Lake Berryessa, the largest lake in Napa County, was 80 percent contained, fire officials said.

North of Sacramento, the 2,300-acre (930-hectare) Lowell Fire threatened 1,550 structures, mostly residential, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

In the southern California county of San Bernardino, lawmakers offered a $75,000 reward on Tuesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of drone hobbyists whose craft have interfered with recent firefighting efforts in the region.

One small structure has been destroyed and six people hurt, including one firefighter with serious injuries, Cal Fire said.

Roughly a dozen blazes were active in California, according to fire officials. The state is in its fourth year of record drought.

To the north, in Washington state, a 6,000-acre (2,400-hectare) blaze that erupted on Monday was burning 10 miles (16 km) east of Walla Walla, a city of about 32,000 people, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s InciWeb online fire information center.

Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Trott and Will Dunham

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