Residents struggle through evacuations

For Clay and Nancy Henphill, running from wildfires has become a familiar routine.

For the second time in just over two weeks, they were forced to evacuate their home after fire officials ordered 10,000 people in the Sierra Nevada foothills to flee ahead of a wind-whipped blaze, one of about 40 lightning-sparked wildfires that have charred more than 76 square miles over the past two weeks.

The Henphills awoke to blaring sirens about 1 a.m. Tuesday and were told to leave immediately. Only a week earlier, they had returned to their home in Concow, a rural community about 90 miles north of Sacramento, after spending a week at a shelter.

“They were running sirens all down through there. We started tossing a few things in the car. A fireman said, ‘Get out of here quick,'” Clay Henphill, 59, said Wednesday. “We all came out in a long line of cars, with firetrucks going in as we were going out.”

By Wednesday, the lightning-sparked wildfire had destroyed at least 40 homes, mostly in Concow, and threatened nearly 4,000 others in the nearby city of Paradise and other nearby communities.

The latest blaze flared up early Tuesday after erratic winds blew embers across fire-containment lines.

Firefighters struggled against a sudden drop in humidity and a heat wave that was forecast to linger until the weekend.

Dozens of evacuees spent Tuesday night at the emergency shelter at Las Plumas High School in Oroville, where people slept on cots in the gymnasium and ate meals donated by businesses and churches.

Mary Johnston, 22, who lives near Concow with her father and two young children, burst into tears Wednesday when she saw a photo of her charred house in the Chico Record Enterprise newspaper.

“I'm going nuts. Everything's gone,” she sobbed. “It's been so trying, especially with my kids. They don't even know what's going on. It's kind of hard telling them everything's gone, all your toys.”