Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.
Two people are confirmed to have died in the Mill Fire Friday in Weed, California. After announcing the deaths, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue asked for a moment of silence from a crowd of roughly 300 people who attended a community meeting Sunday afternoon at Big Springs Elementary School to learn the latest news about the Mill and Mountain fires.
After the meeting, LaRue said the fatalities involved two unrelated women, ages 66 and 73. They both died in the early hours of the fire in or near the Lincoln Heights neighborhood in Weed but in separate areas.
LaRue did not immediately release the names of the deceased.
Three other injuries have been reported in the blaze.
The Mill Fire had burned 4,254 acres and was 25% contained as of Sunday, but the fire was no longer actively burning, fire officials said. The area is still smoking with a lot of hot spots, but fire officials said the blaze, which started in Weed and entered the community of Lake Shastina from the south, had been stopped at about Rainbow Drive and had not progressed north of the lake.
The Mountain Fire, burning 11 miles west of Weed near the town of Gazelle, had grown to 8,460 acres by Sunday afternoon with 5% containment, up more than 2,000 acres from the 6,451 acres reported early Sunday morning.
That fire started Friday afternoon as well, at 3:48 p.m., almost exactly three hours after the Mill Fire, at the start of the Labor Day holiday.
Many areas in and around Weed and Lake Shastina are without power, phone or internet service, said Bryan Schenone, director of the Siskiyou County Office of Emergency Services.
“Power teams are in there now, but there was a significant amount of damage to our infrastructure in that area. … We are hoping to have power back on Tuesday,” he told the crowd at Big Springs Elementary.
LaRue and other officials who spoke at the meeting acknowledged uncertainties facing the community, such as when people would be allowed back into their homes.
About 1,000 people were still under evacuation orders on the Mill Fire Sunday, and 332 people have been evacuated by the Mountain Fire.
Many of the people who have been evacuated still don’t know whether they have homes to return to, and as of Sunday’s community meeting emergency officials did not have a firm count of how many homes had been lost.
On Saturday Cal Fire reported that at least 50 structures had been destroyed and “132 structures have been affected” by the Mill Fire.
Damage inspection teams began going through affected neighborhoods Sunday to inventory the damage, and “numbers will be reported after they have been verified,” Cal Fire said.
Phil Anzo, Cal Fire’s Siskiyou Unit chief, acknowledged the fires have taken a toll on the region in recent years.
Weed, home to fewer than 3,000 people, has seen three major fires in recent years. The Boles Fire, a fast-moving, wind-driven fire, destroyed 150 homes in September 2014.
Last year, lightning sparked the Lava Fire on the slopes of Mount Shasta June 24. The blaze, pushed by winds, raced past Weed, devouring more than 26,000 acres, threatening the community of Lake Shastina and destroying homes in the area of Shasta Vista.
Earlier this summer, the McKinney Fire near Yreka took four lives and wiped out the community of Klamath River.
The common denominator in all of the fires was the wind, LaRue said.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen lots of fires in this community, we’ve seen lots of fires in this county, and we’ve suffered lots of devastation,” Anzo said.
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