VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) — A U.S. Forest Service firefighter was killed in the Lake Tahoe area after he was struck by a tree while battling a wildfire — the second firefighter killed in a California blaze since the summer wildfire season got underway, officials said.
Michael Hallenbeck, 21, of Shingle Springs, Calif., was hit Saturday during the initial attack on a fire that broke out south of the Echo Summit mountain pass, the agency said in a statement Sunday.
On July 30, a firefighter was killed by a wildfire in the Modoc National Forest while he scouted the area for ways to fight the blaze. U.S. Forest Service firefighter David Ruhl, of Rapid City, South Dakota, had been on temporary assignment since June in California, where he was an assistant fire management officer for the Big Valley Ranger District.
“The grief we are feeling at the sudden loss of two of our firefighters … reminds us of the sacrifices these men and women make every day,” said Randy Moore, the agency’s Pacific Southwest regional forester.
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More than 10,000 firefighters have been dispatched to fight 20 wildfires burning in drought-stricken California.
The largest wildfire in the state was burning in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties and prompted the evacuations of hundreds of residents. The wildfire 100 miles north of San Francisco has destroyed 43 residences, 53 outbuildings and eight other structures.
The fire, which has charred nearly 109 square miles since igniting July 29, was 85 percent contained Sunday, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Some firefighters battling that massive blaze were rushed Sunday afternoon to a new wildfire that broke out several miles away near the community of Lower Lake and exploded to 4.7 square miles, or 3,000 acres, in a few hours, CalFire Capt. Joe Fletcher said.
The blaze forced the evacuation of residents of the rural Jerusalem Valley, who had been forced out of their homes on July 31 by the larger Rocky Fire and allowed to return on Thursday when the area was no longer threatened by the flames.
The two wildfires will likely merge, Fletcher said.
In Central California, a wildfire that consumed 9 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest was nearly contained.