A wildfire burning through a swath of Los Angeles County for more than two weeks remained virtually unchecked Monday as fire managers struggled to gather resources needed to douse the inferno.
The Bobcat Fire is one of scores of major fires burning across the West – including Oregon, where at least six people have been accused of igniting some of the blazes.
The Bobcat Fire has burned more than 160 square miles in and around the Angeles National Forest, destroying an unknown number of homes and an iconic nature center. Thousands of residents have fled the flames.
“We’re still in the thick of a good firefight,” U.S. Forest Service public information officer Andrew Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times.
The fire “continues to advance in all compass directions depending on fuels and topography,” according to report from the unified command battling the fire. The blaze was expected to spread into several communities.
There was a sliver of good news Monday as calmer winds could help crews corral the flames, officials said. The erratic winds that drove flames into the community of Juniper Hills over the weekend had died down, said U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Larry Smith.
“It’s slightly cooler too, so hopefully that will be a help to firefighters,” Smith said.
The report also cited concerns over stretched resources. Almost 19,000 firefighters are battling 27 major wildfires across the state. The Bobcat has more than 1,700 personnel on scene, but fire managers cited “limited resources for the fire. Critical need for resources continue.”
Sophia Mavrolas, a senior at Cal State Northridge and a resident of Juniper Hills, told the Press-Enterprise newspaper she evacuated Friday but returned home Sunday. She said she could hear propane tanks exploding.
“It was so terrifying. The fire line stops within just walking distance of my neighbors,” she said. “My neighborhood was extremely lucky to get out of this okay, but my heart aches so bad for my neighbors in upper Juniper Hills.”
The county parks department tweeted that the fire’s “devastating destruction” burned the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl Nature Area. No animals nor staff were injured at the 1,310-acre “geological wonder” that draws 130,000 visitors annually, the department said.
The fire ranks among the largest in county history. The largest, the Station Fire in 2009, burned 250 square miles, killed two firefighters and burned almost 100 homes.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 7,900 wildfires that have burned over 3.5 million acres in California. Since Aug. 15, when California’s fire activity elevated amid dry and windy conditions and a plethora of lightning strikes, there have been 26 fatalities and over 6,100 structures destroyed.
There has been some good news in recent days – at least for Californians. Millions of them got a brief respite from smoky skies Sunday as westerly winds pushed smoke toward the east. The smoke is moving through the Great Plains, according to the National Weather Service.
“What benefits us is harming others. Someone has to be downwind,” said Brandt Maxwell, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
At least 80 major fires are currently burning across a dozen Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Oregon also has been hard hit: More than 1,500 square miles have burned. The Almeda Fire, just north of the California border, destroyed more than 2,000 homes before being 100% contained.
The Oregonian reports that at least six men across the state have been accused of intentionally setting fires in recent weeks, although only one involved a fire that burned homes and businesses. Michael Jarrod Bakkela is charged with setting a fire Sept. 8 that damaged 15 properties, threatened the lives of 14 people in neighborhoods near Medford – and contributed to the catastrophic Almeda Fire.
None of the six accused men have ties to left- or right-wing groups or appear to have been motivated by politics, The Oregonian said.
In Colorado, wind chased Cameron Peak Fire firefighters from battling the blaze and allowed for one of the fire’s largest runs in weeks, authorities said. The fire has burned more than 160 square miles and overran one of the crucial fire lines defending thousands of homes, according to Cory Carlson, the fire’s planning operations trainee.
In Wyoming, the Mullen Fire was threatening the Rob Roy Reservoir, which provides water for the the city of Cheyenne.
Contributing: Colin Atagi, Palm Springs Desert Sun; Miles Blumhardt, Fort Collins Coloradoan; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wildfires: Bobcat Fire destroys Devil’s Punchbowl Nature Center