PLACER COUNTY — With a brutal heat wave finally appearing to ease up, fire crews were digging away at large control lines on Saturday morning to prevent the Mosquito Fire from traveling further south toward El Dorado County.
Favorable winds and cooler temperatures will help crews control the blaze, which after a few manageable days jumped dramatically on Friday and has burned to 33,754 acres with 0% containment east of the Foresthill area in Placer County, threatening 3,666 structures.
The ratio between acres burned and overall containment may appear stark, but a Cal Fire representative said much of the expansion overnight Friday was due to crews moving the wildfire toward a bulldozed perimeter that could stop the flames in their tracks.
“If we’re able to move the fire, we’ll be able to control it,” said Chris Vestal, a spokesman for Cal Fire’s Mosquito Fire unit, said Saturday. “Things have been somewhat calm since last night.”
Still, evacuation orders remain for residents across 275 square miles of Placer and El Dorado counties in communities such as Foresthill, Todd Valley, Michigan Bluff, Volcanoville, Georgetown, Buckeye and Quintette.
Those orders and other evacuation warnings are not expected to be lifted on Saturday, Vestal said, noting that the fire — which started in the Oxbow Reservoir near Foresthill — could still pose a threat to residences if unfavorable winds arrive to blow the flames in dangerous directions.
The fast-moving Mosquito Fire was the largest of a number of blazes that have raged over the past week amid a sweltering heat wave that posed menacing wildfire danger to numerous inland California communities.
Elsewhere, crews are nearing full containment of the Mill Fire, which claimed two lives and destroyed a large number of homes in the Northern California town of Weed and nearby Lake Shastina after igniting around a lumber mill.
Another blaze in Siskiyou County, the Mountain Fire, has burned more than 11,000 acres and is 60% contained.
The Mosquito Fire, meanwhile, has sent heavy plumes of smoke east toward Lake Tahoe, with darkened clouds visible as far south as the East Bay. But the weekend’s weather forecast so far brings only good news for the nearly 1,700 firefighters deployed to bring the flames under control.
“We’re not going to see winds that are too intense,” said Cory Mueller, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office. “There are really no wind concerns besides these typical afternoon breezes.”
Crews working long hours around the Mosquito Fire’s conflagrations will also receive some much-needed relief from the punishing heat. Temperatures in Placer County are expected to hover around the mid-70s and low-80s on Saturday — “dramatically cooler” conditions than what the region saw for much of the week, Mueller said.
It’s a stroke of good fortune that has persisted since Friday, when responding agencies said that the thick column of smoke emitting from the burn area was actually helping to prevent the flames from growing.
Crews had not been so lucky the night before, when the fire exploded by 21,000 acres amid 95-degree temperatures and low humidity, prompting residents in nearby communities to vacate their homes. Now, with a perimeter established, Vestal believes crews would be able to withstand further expansion.
“That’s why creating the control lines are really critical for containment, so that if winds blew the fire to the south, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal,” he said.
At large, California residents and fire officials alike are breathing a sigh of relief as the scorching, record-setting statewide heat wave finally begins to subside. Cooler temperatures are expected across the Bay Area this weekend, while parts of Southern California even saw some scattered rainfall on Friday.
For Mueller, part of the relief is that the most threatening stretch yet of this year’s wildfire season didn’t lead to even more damage.
“Thankfully, the heat’s behind us now — and given how hot and dry it was, there probably could have been more fires,” he said.