It’s now the biggest and fiercest wildfire to scorch California yet this season, but for a brief moment last week, fire crews thought they had the Lava fire beat.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Nearly a week before the fire had gotten so large that it spawned an ominous smoke cloud taller than Mt. Shasta, triggered widespread evacuations and led to a fatal shooting, fire crews left the Shasta-Trinity National Forest believing they had fully contained the blaze at just a quarter-acre in size.
The incident remains under investigation, but initial assessments suggest it is just the latest example of how drought and record heat are conspiring to heighten the danger, severity and unpredictability of this fire season.
A worsening drought is further drying out parched vegetation, which could be fuel for a disastrous fire season.
The Lava fire was detected around 8:35 p.m., when emergency responders received a report of smoke in a remote area of ancient lava flows about 3.5 miles northeast of Weed.
Authorities weren’t quite sure whose direct protection area the fire fell into, so battalions from the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection both showed up, Freeman said.
By the time crews were able to get access to the fire and start their work, it was around midnight. They eventually determined the area was under federal