Wildfire in California grows by 3,000 acres

State fire agency calls it 'a monster,' with 21,000 structures threatened

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A huge wildfire in a forest region east of Sacramento expanded by 3,000 acres, fire officials reported Saturday.

State fire agency Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service, which are jointly managing firefighting efforts in the area, said that nearly 5,000 firefighters continued battling the 80,000-acre King fire, which is believed to have been set intentionally.

Nearly 3,000 people had been evacuated from the area, and 21,000 structures remain threatened by the week-old blaze, which was 10 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon.

“This fire is a monster,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said Saturday.

The King fire started Sept. 13, grew for several days, and then exploded in a matter of hours Wednesday night from 27,930 acres to 71,000 acres.

Warm temperatures, low humidity and forests full of extremely dry trees — the result of serious drought conditions — all contributed to the fire’s severity, Tolmachoff said.

On Saturday, ground crews worked to strengthen containment lines to limit further spread of the flames. Teams fanned out to assess damage to structures.

Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service crews also split the fire into two management zones, in an effort to improve logistics and reduce travel time for fire crews to reach their assignments.

According to Cal Fire spokesman Johnny Miller, who was stationed at the agency’s fire command post in Placerville on Saturday, state crews were planning to manage firefighters working at the southern end of the fire while federal teams would work in the north.

Miller said splitting a fire into zones in this manner was unusual.

“It’s very rare we’d have this many firefighters and this much complexity in a fire,” he said.

Earlier in the week, a Cal Fire unit chief said firefighters had dropped “world record” amounts of fire retardant on the flames. But Tolmachoff said firefighting aircraft had not been able to continue that work Friday because of smoky conditions over the area. She said she believed aircraft had been grounded Saturday as well.

El Dorado County is updating information about the fire on its website.

Last week the county Sheriff’s Department arrested 37-year-old Wayne Huntsman on suspicion of starting the blaze.