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‘Today will test us’: High winds expected to threaten Fawn Fire progress

After several days of cool, gentle weather helped nearly 2,000 firefighters gain rapid containment of the Fawn Fire in Shasta County, crews braced for a fresh round of high winds starting Tuesday afternoon that threaten their progress.

Starting around 3 p.m., gusts up to 35 mph were expected to wash over the region, kicking up embers and potentially pushing the fire to the southwest, back towards Interstate 5, said Cal Fire spokesman David Clark. The fire had consumed 8,577 acres and was about 65% contained as of midday Tuesday.

“Today will test us and test the lines,” Clark said. “We definitely don’t want the community to have a false sense of security and let their guard down when the fire is actively still burning.”

Over the past three days, temperatures in the 70s allowed crews to beef up containment lines and start mopping up parts of the fire’s northern flank near Shasta Lake — quickly increasing containment from just 10% on Saturday morning.

But with potential winds looming, crews Tuesday pooled along the fire’s northeast near Bear Mountain, a sparsely-populated area where flames have proven stubbornly active. Others were dispatched to the western flank of the blaze, roughly parallel to Interstate 5, in case new spot fires cropped up and threatened communities there.

“We don’t want to lose any footing on the gains we’ve accomplished on the fire,” Clark said.

Still, Shasta County was exempt from a Reg Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service for most of the Sacramento Valley, lasting from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Winds around the fire zone were forecast to be slightly lighter than the rest of the region, said meteorologist Katrina Hand.

After Tuesday, she added, the threat around the fire zone was likely to ease off.

“It’s not really a concern for us for the rest of the week, as long as those stronger winds and lower humidity levels are further south of Shasta County,” Hand said.

The blaze broke out Sept. 22 about five miles south of Shasta Lake and furiously surged north, burning all the way to the lake itself — a natural firebreak — by Sunday. It has destroyed 185 structures, damaged 26 and caused injuries among three people, according to Cal Fire.

Palo Alto resident Alexandra Souverneva, 30, was arrested on suspicion of igniting the fire and has pleaded not guilty to felony arson charges. Authorities have also publicly linked her to another fire that was quickly contained the day before about five miles away, but no charges related to that fire had been filed as of Tuesday morning.

The blaze is one of 11 major wildfires burning in California. More than 400 miles south, the KNP Complex in Tulare County has charred nearly 50,000 acres in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park since breaking out on Sept. 9 and was just 8% contained as of Tuesday.

With dozens of homes already burned in Shasta County, Clark lauded the “huge” progress of crews over the weekend but urged residents to be prepared for quick changes in the weather that could change the fire’s course.

“We don’t want the public to fall into a false sense of security with the wind event today,” Clark said. “We need to remind you to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice in case the fire activity increases.”

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