California wildfires: Motorists panic as flames surround highway

Dramatic moment wildfire explodes along a California freeway

The so-called Delta Fire broke out shortly after noon on Wednesday about 10 miles north of Redding, Calif. California is taking a financial wallop from unrelenting wildfires that have drained its firefighting budget and prompted almost $1 billion in property claims even before the start of the unsafe fall fire season, officials said. Further north, dozer line along Middle Ridge is serving as a point for additional defensive firing operations in an effort to protect communities along the I-5 corridor, such as Castella and Dunsmuir.

Elsewhere in the state, a fire raging in the Sierra Nevada had grown to more than 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) after shutting down stretches of US 395, State Route 108 and the Pacific Crest Trail along the eastern spine of California. Southbound Interstate 5 is closed 3.6 miles south of Mt. Shasta at Mott Rd. Overnight mapping determined that the fire has burned nearly 37,000 acres.

The Shasta County Sheriff's Office is conducting evacuations on both sides of I-5 north of Lakehead to the Shasta/Siskiyou county line.

Officials say that the fire was human-caused but have not disclosed whether it is believed to have been an act of arson or simply an accident.

Officials must first determine if it's safe to resume travel on a 45-mile (72-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 5 near the OR state line.

Before the highway is reopened, authorities have to check the safety of the pavement and cut down burned trees next to the road - some of them 70 feet tall - that might be in danger of falling down.

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An intense wildfire roared unchecked for a second day on Thursday through drought-desiccated timber in Northern California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest, threatening scores of homes and forcing the closure of an interstate highway after motorists had to flee their vehicles.

"It isn't a lot of people", he said. "Whatever occurred here was probably pretty ugly for a while".

The fire was showing "critical" behaviour - burning fiercely and moving rapidly - but was still far away from any large towns, he added.

The Mendocino Complex - which was made up of two fires - burned some 1,100 homes in and around the Redding area and killed eight people last month.

The blaze also delayed Amtrak's Coast Starlight service between Sacramento and Oregon. Residents were issued an evacuation warning, urging them to be prepared to leave if the fire threatened.

Most are either fully contained or close to containment.

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