The Mosquito Fire, which broke out in northern California on Tuesday evening, charged into a mountain community and burned more homes when it burned dangerously close to a high school.
The inferno – the largest wildfire currently burning in California – broke out west of Lake Tahoe amid extreme heat on September 6 and has already consumed about 50,330 acres in El Dorado and Placer counties. On Tuesday night it was 25% owned.
Burning fiercely and spreading deeper into the Sierra Nevada mountains, the fire has forced more than 11,200 people to flee as it threatened thousands of structures, with 46 structures burned by Monday, including at least 25 homes, according to Cal Fire.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had pushed toward the Foresthill community and reached the edge of Foresthill High School, burning structures across the street as firefighting planes scrambled to drop fire retardant over the blaze.
Aerial video from CNN affiliate KCRA showed flames engulfing a row of cars and structures under thick, black smoke.
It was not immediately clear how many buildings and vehicles were lost in the blaze, but firefighters appeared to have kept the flames away from Foresthill High School, Cal Fire Public Information Officer Scott McLean told CNN.
Although firefighters were helped by calmer weather over the weekend, stronger southwesterly winds swept into the region Tuesday, breaking the smoke inversion that had hung over the Mosquito Fire for days.
As the entrapped smoke cleared in the afternoon, the flames exploded, jumping the Middle Fork of the American River on the western edge of the fire perimeter and moving toward Foresthill, crossing dry fuels and steep terrain.
The flames moved back from El Dorado County into Placer County, below the communities of Todd Valley and Foresthill, Cal Fire Operations Division Chief Landon Haack said in an afternoon briefing.
Firefighters trying to stop the spread of the fire in other areas were diverted to help hold the line under the community, officials said.
“As we speak, they’re having a pretty significant fire. They’re trying really hard to keep that fire in that box,” Haack said.
The fire jumped an area with bends in the river where winds are swirling and pushing smoke and embers, Cal Fire fire behavior analyst Jonathan Pangburn said in the briefing.
Additional evacuations were ordered Tuesday afternoon, including for the Stumpy Meadows community, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.
The Mosquito Fire continues to push eastward in areas of heavily forested, very dry vegetation, officials said.
Before the wind cleared the smoke on Tuesday, it created poor air quality in the region due to the high concentration of airborne particles from the fire.
The smoke crossed state lines and drifted into Nevada, where the US Air Quality Index reported “very healthy” air quality.
The fire is one of many burning across the West that are choking the air with smoke. More than 800,000 acres have burned in 93 active and large wildfires across the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Oregon, the lightning-sparked Cedar Creek Fire has quadrupled in size since last week, burning about 92,548 acres as of Tuesday and still burning at 0% containment.
Frying under rising temperatures, areas of easily burned dry brush that can become fuel for volatile wildfires are growing in drought-stricken Western states.
Fires are also burning as California’s reservoirs shrink amid an emergency that is forcing residents to limit outdoor watering.
In the Golden State, residents are facing unprecedented water shortages. The Metropolitan Water District first declared a water shortage emergency in April, restricting outdoor watering for millions of residents in dozens of Southern California cities.
For the third month in a row, Los Angeles residents cut their water use on record in August, despite an average of 3 to 5 degrees warmer, the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, said.
Los Angeles residents’ water use in August was 10 percent lower than the same month in the past two years, according to Garcetti.
“In the face of monthly record heat, Angelenos have gone above and beyond to find additional ways to mitigate, and as temperatures continue to rise and reservoirs dry up, I know Los Angeles will continue to show our region and the rest of the world what meaningful conservation looks like.” , said the mayor in a statement.