California wildfires expand after death of firefighter

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 01, 2015 5:58 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - Firefighters rushed to contain a pair of fast-moving wildfires in Northern California on Saturday as they mourned the death of a U.S. Forest Service firefighter killed this week in the battle against one of the blazes, officials said.

The largest blaze has forced hundreds of people to evacuate and destroyed more than a dozen homes. Experts have predicted a long and volatile summer wildfire season in California in its fourth year of crippling drought.

Firefighter David Ruhl, 38, a married father of two from Rapid City, South Dakota, died on Thursday while on assignment at the Frog Fire in the Modoc National Forest near California's border with Oregon.

No one else was with Ruhl when he was killed, and he was the incident commander on the fire at the time, said Modoc National Forest spokesman Ken Sandusky. It is common for a leader on a fire to travel alone, Sandusky said, but he declined to release more details on the death.

The Frog Fire, which broke out on Thursday and is about 5 percent contained, has grown to 1,850 acres (750 hectares) and erratic winds have pushed it in all directions, he said.

A red-flag warning, designating the threat of gusty winds that risk fanning flames, was expected to remain in effect until late Sunday in the area of the Frog Fire.

The Rocky Fire, in the foothills and canyons on the inland flanks of California's northern coastal range in Lake County north of San Francisco, has also ballooned in size and now covers 22,500 acres (9,100 hectares).

Nearly 1,600 firefighters are working on the fire, which broke out on Wednesday and is only 5 percent contained, according to a state fire information website.

"It's making some good runs right now,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Captain Ron Oatman.

In particular, fingers of the blaze were advancing on Highway 20 where firefighters built containment lines to hold back flames, he said.

The Rocky Fire has destroyed 14 houses and 16 outbuildings, and it threatens 6,100 structures, said Lesley Smith, a volunteer in the fire information center.

More than 600 people have been evacuated since it began, Smith said.

Fire officials are preparing to tell more residents to leave their homes, issuing mandatory orders after earlier voluntary advisories, Oatman said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)