POLLOCK PINES, Calif. — More than 2,400 firefighters Tuesday night tried to contain a fast-growing fire in the Sierra Nevada forests that threatened to leap a highway, placing over 1,600 homes at risk.
The King Fire, which started Saturday in the town of Pollock Pines, Calif., has been rapidly spreading under prime wildfire conditions: a record drought, high temperatures, and autumn winds.
The fire size is now 12,780 acres, or nearly 20 square miles, and is only 5% contained — testament to the rapid increase in charred forest from Monday, when the fire was one-third the size and 10% was contained.
The advance prompted specially trained federal firefighters to take command of the fire early Tuesday morning.
By nightfall, groups of firefighters were setting off small burns to try to slow the spread, anxious to prevent one flank of the fire from crossing south of Highway 50 from the canyon along the south fork of the American River to the small community that lives in the scenic, heavily wooded area.
The fire had reached the edge of Highway 50 late Tuesday. Giant explosions of fire sent massive clouds of smoke and sparks high into the air above the road, a breathtaking sight that carried the threat of setting evergreens on either side of the road ablaze.
A fire engine from UC Davis suffered minor damage when the fire approached more rapidly than firefighters expected, singing and charring the engine. No one was hurt in the incident.
Smoke from the fires made air quality so poor that some schools near Reno, Nev. cancelled sporting events. Ash was raining in the Lake Tahoe city of Truckee.
The King Fire is one of 12 major fires burning in California, which is already experiencing an above-average number of wildfires this year.