Firefighters hope cooling temps help battle California blaze

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Firefighter Ron Burias battles the Fawn Fire as it spreads

Firefighter Ron Burias battles the Fawn Fire as it spreads north of Redding, Calif. in Shasta County, on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

REDDING, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters hope shifting winds and cooling temperatures over the next few days will aid their efforts to battle a destructive wildfire in a drought-stricken forest in California’s far north that has displaced thousands of people and burned at least 100 structures.

Authorities have arrested a 30-year-old woman on suspicion of starting the Fawn Fire in the Mountain Gate area north of the city of Redding. The blaze covered more than 10 square miles (27 square kilometers) and was 10% contained on Friday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

Nearly 2,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders Friday and another 7,400 were under evacuation warnings, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Damage inspection teams are expected to hit the ground Saturday to conduct assessments. Cal Fire said 9,000 structures were threatened by the fire and at least 100 structures had burned. Photos and video showed some homes blazing but the number of residences lost was not known.

The fire erupted at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday and grew explosively in hot and gusty weather Thursday in the region about 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

North northeast winds on Friday night are expected to shift to become south southwest winds and be in firefighters’ favor, Cal Fire said Friday during a briefing. However, firefighters will likely encounter steep terrain during their efforts to control the blaze in the coming days.

Temperatures in the 80s are likely to slowly drop into the 70s over the next several days as a cooling-off period comes, officials said.

Alexandra Souverneva, 30, of Palo Alto was under arrest on suspicion of starting the fire, Cal Fire said.

Workers at a quarry reported seeing a woman acting strangely and trespassing on Wednesday. Cal Fire said Souverneva later walked out of the brush near the fire line, approached firefighters and told them she was dehydrated and needed medical help.

During an interview with Cal Fire and law enforcement, officers came to believe Souverneva was responsible for setting the fire, officials said. She was booked into the Shasta County Jail. It wasn’t immediately known if she has an attorney.

Souverneva, who had a lighter in her pocket when she approached firefighters, was charged Friday with felony arson to wildland with an enhancement due to the declared state of emergency California is under, said Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett.

Souverneva is also being investigated for starting other fires in Shasta County and throughout the state, Bridgett said.

The Fawn Fire is the latest destructive fire to send Californians fleeing this year. Fires have burned more than 3,600 square miles (9,324 square kilometers) so far in 2021, destroying more than 3,200 homes, commercial properties and other structures.

Those fires include two big forest blazes growing in the heart of California’s giant sequoia country on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Smoke from those fires raised air quality concerns in the San Joaquin Valley below the Sierra and also darkened skies over greater Los Angeles on Thursday. South coast air regulators issued a smoke advisory but said the heaviest smoke would remain in the upper atmosphere and impacts on surface air quality would be in local mountain ranges.

Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

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