Man arrested for causing wildfire in Northern California


Posted at Aug 31 2017 10:40 AM

A firefighter battles the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, California, U.S. Noah Berger, Reuters

Fire officials have arrested a 29-year-old man they accused of causing a fast-moving wildfire that has destroyed 10 homes and forced the evacuation of some residents in Northern California, they said on Wednesday.

John Ballenger of the town of Oroville is accused of "recklessly" starting a campfire outside a designated area and allowing it to spread out of control, Cal Fire Butte County Chief Darren Read said in a statement. Oroville is about 70 miles (110 km) north of Sacramento.

Ballenger will be arraigned in a Butte County court on Friday, officials said. No further information was disclosed.

Less than 24 hours after it began on Tuesday afternoon, the so-called Ponderosa Fire had consumed about 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) in Butte County, about 85 miles (135 km) north of Sacramento, according to information on the Cal Fire website. In addition to the homes, the fire has destroyed 20 outbuildings.

Another 15 buildings have been damaged by the flames and 500 more are threatened, Cal Fire said on its website.

Photos on social media showed the fire turning houses into ash as smoke billowed into the sky and flames ripped through trees and vegetation.

"My grandparents' house is gone. Everything on their road burned and it feels like losing my grandma all over again," said a Twitter user.

A mandatory evacuation order was placed on residents who live in the remote area. It is unclear how many residents were evacuated. Two shelters were opened for displaced residents, county officials said.

Northern California is facing a heat wave over the next few days with temperatures expected to top 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), the National Weather Service said.

Since the beginning of the year, wildfires in the U.S. West have burned more than 6.8 million acres (2.8 million hectares), about 50 percent more than during the same time period in 2016.

More than 45,000 fires have burned so far this year across the region, 15 percent more than in 2016, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)