NEAR REDDING (CBS SF/AP) — More than 1,500 firefighters waged war Friday against a human-caused wildfire with flames as high as 300 feet that has turned Interstate 5 into a ghost town and burned through 24,500 acres of Northern California timberland.
The Delta Fire erupted Wednesday afternoon in a rural area just north of the town of Lakehead in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near the Oregon-Washington border.
Cal Fire spokesman Brandon Vacarro said about 280 homes were considered threatened by the fire and that at least one outbuilding and two mixed-use commercial and residential structures had been damaged. As of Friday morning, there was zero containment of the fire as it raged northward.
The blaze has devoured timber and brush on both sides of Interstate 5 — damaging several big rigs and forcing the closure since Wednesday of a 45-mile stretch of the freeway, which runs between Mexico and Canada.
I-5 is shut down from about 10 miles north of Redding to just under four miles south of Shasta.
California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Denise Yergenson said that section of I-5 will remain closed through the weekend. She says the blaze has destroyed thousands of trees that could fall onto the roadway.
Truckers who rely heavily on I-5 to transport timber and other goods along the West Coast had the unenviable choice of waiting or taking a jammed detour that added 115 miles or so to their journeys.
Before the highway is reopened, authorities have to check the safety of the pavement and cut down burned trees next to the road — some of them 70 feet (20 meters) tall — that might be in danger of falling down.
Patience was running thin at the Pilot Travel Center in the town of Weed, near the northern end of the closure. The truck stop’s facilities were stretched to their limits, cashier Jacob Chapman said Thursday afternoon. Parked big rigs lined the roads surrounding the facility.
“It’s been ridiculously congested. It’s been frantic,” Chapman said. “A lot of the truckers are upset. They’re just stuck, they can’t get through and they’re sick of waiting around…The general mood is just tired and upset. The truckers are exhausted and just want to get going. And the locals just want a break from the wildfires.”
Firefighters were also weary, moving from one major blaze to another, battling one of the last outbreaks of wildfires in California history.
“It’s been a long summer, it’s been a long fight,” a National Forest Service hot-shot firefighter said as he rested by a roadside in Placer County. “We have been everywhere from the Carr (which destroyed homes in Redding) to the Whaleback (in the Sierra near Susanville), to the Mendocino Complex and more here.”
So what keeps the firefighters motivated?
“I’ve been evacuated for fires myself,” the hot-shot firefighter said. “We know what it like to have to leave and come home hoping to have something there. We want to make sure these guys have something to come home to.”
The Delta Fire was human-caused, fire officials said, but they didn’t indicate whether it was arson or accident.
It broke out just weeks after the nearby Mendocino Complex was contained. The Mendocino Complex – which was made up of two fires – burned some 1,100 homes in and around the Redding area and killed eight people last month. It was only fully contained last week.
It was largest fire in California state history, burning more than 459,100 acres.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)