California takes financial wallop from unrelenting wildfires

SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) - California is taking a financial wallop from unrelenting wildfires that have drained its firefighting budget and prompted nearly $1 billion in property claims even before the start of the dangerous fall fire season, officials said Thursday.

The disclosures came as a roaring blaze in a rural area near the Oregon border closed 45 miles (72 kilometers) of heavily traveled Interstate 5, the main highway from Mexico to Canada.

Fierce orange flames forced panicked truckers to abandon big-rigs and brought screams from motorists as they watched the advancing fire in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

A decision was expected Friday on when to reopen the highway.

The wildfire flared just weeks after a blaze in the Redding area killed eight people and burned about 1,100 homes.

California's insurance commissioner said Thursday that victims of that fire and one in the Mendocino area - the two largest blazes in the state so far this year - have filed more than 10,000 claims so far totaling $845 million.

The two wildfires destroyed or damaged a combined 8,800 homes and 329 businesses.

"The worst may be yet to come," Commissioner David Jones warned at a San Francisco news conference, noting that California wildfires are typically more destructive after Sept. 1.

Last year, for example, wildfires that killed more than 40 people and destroyed thousands of buildings in counties north of San Francisco didn't spark until October.

Also on Thursday, the director of the state's firefighting agency said in a letter to lawmakers that the agency only had about $11 million remaining in its annual budget and anticipates needing another $234 million to add firefighters and helicopters, and to cover other costs of fires expected later this year.

The department had spent $432 million through the end of August, said Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Legislature budgets for firefighting costs based on historical averages. Cal Fire has requested extra money in seven of the past 10 years but never this early, according to the Department of Finance.

In far Northern California, officials said they had no plans to re-open Interstate 5 on Thursday and would reevaluate early Friday - a decision that slowed or stalled truckers who rely heavily on the highway to transport goods along the West Coast.

They were advised to take an alternate route adding 100 miles (160 kilometers) that could take at least six hours.

"If you don't need to make the trip, I wouldn't do it," Caltrans spokeswoman Denise Yergenson said.

Truck driver Amit Sekhri said he saw flames and slowing vehicles along the freeway on Wednesday but his big-rig was too large to turn around and he decided against parking and fleeing on foot.

He kept driving, with fire lapping at both sides of the highway and burning ash falling all around him. He felt the heat in his cab, despite the air conditioning.

"It was picking up so fast. It was behind me, in front of me, left, right. It was all fire. I was surrounded by fire," he said, still shaken by the experience.

When he finally saw daylight, he knew he had made it to safety.

"It's one of the scariest things I've ever seen and been through," he said.

The fire began Wednesday and nearly tripled in size overnight, officials said, to 23 square miles (60 square kilometers). It prompted mandatory evacuations and was moving rapidly but remained far from any large towns.

David Steinberg and his partner Kim Mears were returning from a day hike when they came upon the wildfire and watched in awe.

Steinberg says they were mesmerized by the fire, but eventually realized the danger it presented.

"There's a moment when you're saying, 'This is really exciting.' Then you realize, 'Oh this could be really dangerous,'" he said.

Elsewhere in the state, a fire burning in the Sierra Nevada had grown to more than 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) after shutting down stretches of U.S. 395, State Route 108 and the Pacific Crest Trail along the eastern spine of California.

The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, campgrounds and other areas were evacuated Wednesday. Ranchers were told to prepare to move livestock out of the area in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.


Elias reported from San Francisco. AP writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.


More Related News

San Francisco first major US city to ban e-cigarette sales
San Francisco first major US city to ban e-cigarette sales

San Francisco on Tuesday became the first major US city to effectively ban the sale and manufacture of electronic cigarettes. The city's legislature unanimously approved an ordinance which backers said was necessary due to the "significant public health consequences" of a "dramatic surge" in vaping among youths. The ordinance says e-cigarette products sold in shops or online in San Francisco would need approval by federal health authorities, which none currently has.

David Dahl
David Dahl's two-run homer carries Rockies past Giants 2-0

The Colorado Rockies put a forgettable weekend at Dodger Stadium behind them and started fresh. David Dahl hit a two-run homer in the third that held up for Jon Gray, and the Rockies snapped a three-game skid by beating the San Francisco Giants 2-0 on Monday night. Gray (8-5) struck out six in six

Student debt a
Student debt a 'life sentence' for millions of Americans

Haley Walters is five years away from earning her law degree. If everything goes according to plan, she will be under a mountain of $100,000 in student debt by the time she enters the work force. Like millions of Americans, Walters is paying a steep price for an education that will likely weigh her down financially for much of her adult life.

Locastro wins it, D-backs end six-game losing streak
Locastro wins it, D-backs end six-game losing streak

Tim Locastro's single with the bases loaded in the 10th inning gave the Arizona Diamondbacks a 3-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. Locastro's line drive to left field scored Nick Ahmed and helped the Diamondbacks end a season-long six-game losing streak. Giants reliever Mark Melancon

Partisan Gerrymandering: Courts Should Keep Out of the Debate
Partisan Gerrymandering: Courts Should Keep Out of the Debate

For the past few years, liberals have been pushing the courts to declare that partisan redistricting -- the consideration of politics when drawing the boundaries of legislative districts -- violates the Constitution. In fact, we are awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue in two cases out of Maryland and North Carolina.We hope that the Court will refuse to involve itself in the political thicket of the redistricting process. Engaging in politics does not violate the Constitution. Besides, the solution to gerrymandered districts should come from state legislatures, not the courts.The allocation of representatives in a state legislature or in the U.S. House of...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Latin America

Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.