Last week, Janet Stickler was forced to evacuate the trailer she lived in as the Mosquito Fire – a raging blaze that has become California’s biggest this year – was inching closer to the community of Garden Valley.
She found shelter in the home of her niece’s friend, who offered a room in her home in the small community of Dutch Flat, about an hour north.
This week, deja vu: Stickler, 74, had to leave again after a separate blaze, the Dutch Fire, came dangerously close Tuesday.
“It was absolutely the most intense, horrible situation,” Stickler, who is retired, told CNN. “It was just like, ‘I can’t believe it.’ I don’t have a lot of strength or resilience and I’m an anxious kind of person. So, it’s just stressful.”
The quickly expanding Mosquito Fire had burned through more than 67,000 acres and was roughly 20% contained as of Thursday night, according to Cal Fire. Since sparking on September 6, it has become the largest fire in California this year, surpassing the McKinney Fire, which was previously the largest at 60,100 acres.
Cindy Goldman, who was hosting Stickler in her home, said as the Dutch Fire grew nearby, she helped Stickler gather her things and her dog to flee flames once again. Goldman then began driving around the town – one she said feels very much like family – to make sure everyone was okay and aware of the fire threat.
“Everybody called everybody,” Goldman said. “Everybody went around before we even got any evacuation orders, (the fire) was so close that people were hitching up their trailers and packing their cars.”
Authorities began evacuating residents in the area shortly after the blaze began, according to a Twitter post from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. Evacuation orders were lifted later Tuesday. The fire was 50% contained Wednesday night, according to Cal Fire.
The Dutch Fire, which started Tuesday afternoon, has burned about 48 acres in northern California and narrowly missed the town, which is just off Interstate 80, and has fewer than 200 permanent residents.
Evacuation warnings remain for Garden Valley as the Mosquito Fire rages and Stickler said she hasn’t been able to go back to the trailer. She returned to Goldman’s house Wednesday morning.
Thousands of buildings are under threat
The Mosquito Fire was continuing to threaten more than 9,000 homes, businesses and outbuildings across El Dorado and Placer counties Wednesday evening, authorities said. The blaze has already destroyed 70 structures and damaged another 10, according to Cal Fire.
The fire was moving east and northeast, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Wednesday. The blaze reached the southern edge of the communities of Foresthill and Todd Valley early Wednesday, and those areas were still deemed threatened later in the day, authorities said.
“This area remains very dangerous,” Placer County Sheriff’s Lt. Josh Barnhart said in a virtual briefing Wednesday evening. “I understand that people are eager to repopulate Todd Valley but at this time it’s too dangerous to do so.”
Evacuation orders and warnings remained in place Thursday for multiple communities across the two counties.
In El Dorado County alone, more than 5,400 people were affected by evacuation orders and more than 11,500 were affected by evacuation warnings, according to data posted by the county.
But below average temperatures in the forecast could help firefighters battling the blaze in Northern California over the coming days. There will likely be no rain for the next couple of days, but temperatures are expected to be cooler than normal and winds – which have so far helped fuel fire growth – are expected to be minimal, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.
The fire is one of many burning across the western US as much of the region baked in triple-digit temperatures last week. Roughly 91 active large blazes and fire complexes have burned more than 854,500 acres in the region, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
And so far this year, more than 50,600 wildfires have charred through more than 6.7 million acres in the US, according to the center.
“This is the most wildfires-to-date in the past 10 years. More than 87% of these wildfires were caused by people,” it added.
And the fires are causing dangerous smoke conditions. A wall of smoke from the Mosquito Fire in the Sierra Nevada mountains created hazardous air quality conditions earlier this week. Air quality advisories remained in effect Wednesday over most of the northwestern US, according to the center.