Some of the residents of this small mountain town began returning home Wednesday after a wildfire burned nine homes and damaged the high school, but others remained in a local shelter. Meanwhile, three chaplains were assessing damages and providing support for many of the hundreds of people who were evacuated.
As many as half of the residents of Weaverville (pop. 3500), were evacuated Tuesday when wind-swept flames burned into the edge of town.
About 300 people checked into a shelter set up by the American Red Cross Tuesday and 150 spent the night. More than 130 had checked in by Wednesday afternoon as firefighters continued to try to contain the blaze that is currently fanning more than 2,000 acres of timberland in the nearby mountains.
The owner of motor inn at the edge of town, asked many of his registered guests to leave in order to provide shelter to evacuees, according to Breanda Northcutt, a Red Cross spokesperson.
"They've opened up their kitchen and are helping get food for everyone," she said. "I talked to some of the guests, who were glad they too could help."
The Salvation Army is in town of more than 3,500 people, serving mobile meals and the Red Cross served 500 breakfasts to firefighters Wednesday morning.
The chaplains are all associated with emergency agencies responding to the fires and part of a response initiative coordinated by FaithWORKS, a coalition of community and faith-based organizations in nearby Redding.
According to Skip Tyler of FaithWORKS, the chaplains are evaluating the needs for support and assistance. Once the fire is no longer a threat, a local organization is expected to provide help to those families who are not adequately insured.
Weaverville, a town dependent on logging and tourism, isn't a totally a stranger to wildfires. A fast-moving fire burned 110,000 acres in the Trinity National Forest northwest of the town in 1999. However this week's fire, has been moving slower but more intensly through logging woodlands and into the edge of town.
By Wednesday afternoon, the fire was only 15 percent contained, said Shannon Evert, California Department of Forestry spokesperson. More than 720 units, from helicopters to fire engines and crews, are being used to fight the blaze with little luck.
"They are having a hard time getting to the fire," Evert said. "The weather is hot (90 degrees) and winds are expected to increase. It is spotting and spreading rapidly. It's a brush fire which makes it even harder."
Phone and power outages are widespread and all schools and county offices are closed. At least 12 buildings were reported to have been destroyed and the high school was damaged.
Other fires continue throughout the West. Currently, nearly 20,000 firefighters and support personnel are assigned to wildland fires.
A fire in Redwood Valley, CA., the site of a deadly collision of two firefighting planes on Monday, has been contained. Near Whitefish, Montana, fire spread rapidly Tuesday, increasing from 4,700 acres to 14,000 acres; forcing one resident to evacuate and 15 others notified for potential evacuations. Lightning caused six fires raging in the west now, five in Montana and one in Wyoming. Very high to extreme fire danger is reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The fire season in the Western U.S. runs from mid-May to the end of October. To date, fires have destroyed nearly 3 million acres, about half of the total number of acres burned last year.
Four new large fires were reported this week, two in Northern California and one each in Southern California and the Rocky Mountain areas. Three large fires were contained.
Northcutt said recovery may take a long time for Weaverville residents.
"There will be a lot of cleanup," she said. "Even the homes that were saved will be a mess from the fire retardant. But this is a tight-knit community and they've pulled together before."
-- Jim Skillington contributed to this article.
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