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Crews gain upper hand on Fawn fire that displaced thousands in north California

Firefighters were gaining the upper hand on Sunday on a forest fire that displaced thousands and destroyed more than 100 buildings near Shasta Lake in northern California.

Lighter winds and cooler temperatures slowed the Fawn fire as it moved toward the shores of California’s largest man-made lake and away from populated areas north of the city of Redding, allowing crews to increase containment to 35%, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The fire at one point threatened 9,000 buildings, but the number dropped to 2,340 on Sunday. Light rain was in the forecast for Monday. Fire officials said crews would begin taking advantage of the calmer weather to conduct back burns near the lake to expand the control lines, the Record Searchlight reported.

“We’re going to hold it. It’s going to be done this week,” Bret Gouvea, chief of Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity unit, said at a community meeting on Saturday night.

Initial assessments found that 131 homes and other buildings had burned, CalFire said. That number was likely to change as teams went street by street, surveying the destruction.

Authorities arrested a 30-year-old woman on suspicion of starting the blaze that erupted on Wednesday and grew explosively in hot and gusty weather in the region about 200 miles north-east of San Francisco.

Alexandra Souverneva, of Palo Alto, was charged with felony arson to wildland with an enhancement because of a declared state of emergency in California, said the Shasta county district attorney, Stephanie Bridgett.

Souverneva pleaded not guilty. She is also suspected of starting other fires in Shasta county and throughout the state, Bridgett said. It wasn’t immediately known if she had an attorney who could speak on her behalf.

The Fawn fire has charred more than 13 sq miles of heavy timber. It’s the latest destructive blaze to send Californians fleeing this year. Fires have burned more than 3,750 sq miles in 2021, destroying more than 3,200 homes, commercial properties and other structures.

Those fires include a pair of big forest blazes burning for more than two weeks in the heart of giant sequoia country on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. More than 1,700 firefighters battled the KNP Complex fires, which covered 70 square miles by Sunday.

Nearby, the Windy fire grew significantly on Saturday as it made uphill runs and winds blew embers that ignited spot fires. The blaze ignited by lightning on 9 September has scorched 122 sq miles of trees and brush on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Sequoia National Forest. Containment shrunk from 5% to 2% on Sunday.

A historic drought in the American west tied to the climate crisis is making wildfires harder to fight, killing millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the west much warmer and drier and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

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