SHAFAQNA – A wind-whipped wildfire laid siege to a California town at the foot of Mount Shasta — destroying a church, damaging or leveling 100 homes and forcing authorities to order about half the people to leave. The fire erupted Monday afternoon just south of the town of Weed, and 40 mph gusts of wind blew embers as far as a half-mile away. By sundown, the wind had died down, but the fire had spread across 350 acres and was only 15 percent contained. “It’s horrible,” Dan Linville, 80, told The Associated Press. “I’ve got tears in my heart for all these people that I know who lost their homes.” Weed, about 50 miles from the Oregon state line, has about 3,000 people. Allison Giannini, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said that at least 1,500 had been ordered to evacuate. A sawmill caught fire, a Catholic church burned to the ground, and at least one person who lives in Weed said that a Presbyterian church was on fire, too. An elementary school appeared to have been mostly spared, the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper reported.
“It was absolute madness,” Shelagh Price, whose apartment complex was evacuated, told the newspaper. “People didn’t know which direction to go.” The wildfire is one of a almost a dozen burning across California. East of Sacramento, in the El Dorado National Forest, one fire doubled in size Monday to 8,600 acres and was being battled by 1,500 firefighters. Hot weather and record drought have exacerbated fires in the state. The tail end of Hurricane Odile, which tore through the Baja California peninsula of Mexico on Monday, is expected to hinder firefighters by bringing wind north from Mexico.